September 16, 2005
The Indian Dance Educators Association (IDEA) located in the Washington, DC area recently presented DANCelebration 2005 over two days packed with performances. This considerable undertaking brought together dance greats from India as well as dance teachers and performers from the local area.
Day One of the festival kicked off with "Navarasa: Expressions of Life," a performance brought together by Anuradha Nehru and her ensemble in the Kuchipudi style. The concept was to portray each emotion through an episode from the Ramayana without resorting to a narrative but instead relying on the music and movement of the body. The beauty in the choreography and the music was brought out passionately by this well-rehearsed group. This performance was well received by the audience. The artistic direction was by Anuradha Nehru, choreography by Kishore Mosalikanti, music by B V Balasai and lyrics by Uma Eyyani. The ensemble included Chitra Kalyandurg, Silpa Thotakura, Smita Viswanathan, Asha Dwarka, Nanda Srikantiaiah, Anita Sivaraman, Shobha Korambil and Indira Sarma.
Next, in the "Dance Kaleidoscope," local dance teachers and dancers presented a series of performances exhibiting different styles and concepts along with a wide range of talent. Nataraj School of Indian Dance and Natananjali School of Dance presented "Mallari," a musical item that is ritually played from dawn to dusk in Indian temples and "Nrithya Ragam," a piece combining the essence of music and dance interwoven into the format of ragam, thaanam, and pallavi. The choreography by L Narendra Kumar of Chennai for the second piece showcased the group's experimentation by dancing to traditional music performed with non-traditional instruments. Performed by Daya Ravi, Lakshmi Swaminathan, Kumudhini and Srividya, the beauty of the pieces were brought out with ease by the dancers.
Mayur Dance Academy presented "Poetry in Pallavi", a concept by its artistic director, Sukanya Mukherji, in the Odissi style. Shinjini Mukherji, Shreya Mukherji and Uttara Nag performed with grace and elegance. The flowing movements and striking poses inherent in the Odissi style were displayed well by the dancers.
Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company presented "The Pulse," an abstract work using Bharatanatyam, folk and modern dance moves to explore rhythms from around the world. The ensemble included Uttara Bansal, Vrinda Buchwald, Swetha Manoharan, N Srikanth, Aanchal Raj and Daniel Phoenix Singh. With foot stomping abandon, the dancers did justice to the choreography by N Srikanth from Chennai. The piece was entertaining and showed off the hard work of the dancers. The intricate rhythmic patterns were executed with clarity and style. The only negative was the sometime somber expressions on some of the dancer's faces. While dancing to such exuberant music, an exuberant face to match would have added a needed element to the piece.
followed with a solo presentation in the Kathak style. It was a stark contrast
to go from pulsing global rhythms to traditional Kathak songs. Arpita Roy
held her own and impressed the audience with her footwork and spins. The
performance was well balanced for its use of both nritta and abhinaya.
She concluded with a pure dance number with intricate and vigorous footwork
based on sixteen beats.
Finally, Jayamangala presented "Waves," a thematic presentation choreographed by Shobha Subramanian in the Bharatanatyam style. The piece depicted the impact of the Tsunami tragedy on a fishing village. The dancers were apt in their portrayal of grief and made an impact on the audience. The simple idea of using billowy blue cloth to depict waves both tranquil and treacherous was very effective. The music was a compilation incorporating both traditional and contemporary lyrics. The ensemble included Deepa Chelliah, Mansi Dalal, Ranjani Iyer, Mamta Jhaveri, Meera Raja, Maansi Raswant, Radha Raswant, Mathangi Srinivasan, Ashwin Subramanian, and Shobha Subramanian.
The highlight of Day One was the Odissi performance by Madhavi Mudgal and her troupe (Moumita Ghosh, Arushi Mudgal, Sudha Mallik and Diya Sen). The program commenced with "Ganga Stotra" and invoked the life-giving waters of the sacred river Ganga. Next came "Dvidha," an exploration of spatial and temporal dimensions through the interplay of Madhavi Mudgal and Arushi Mudgal. This was followed by Madhavi Mudgal performing an Oriya song, highlighting traditional Odissi music through abhinaya. The subtle yet effective use of abhinaya displayed the talents of the dancer. "Arabhi Pallavi," in which the troupe brought out the architecture of the beautiful dance form was followed by "Sagarika," a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Interestingly, this piece used the spoken recitation of poetry rather than being sung in a song format. The coordination of the dancers was on full display in this piece. The recital concluded with "Pallavan," a rendering of the five basic tala structures through dance. This rhythmic piece highlighted the use of lines and geometric patterns as the dancers traversed the stage. The audience was visibly moved by the choreographic beauty and precision of this marvelous performance.
Day Two of the festival commenced with a discussion panel on "Making Indian Classical Dance Relevant to 21st Century Youth." The panelists were Dr. Sunil Kothari, Madhavi Mudgal, Nirupama and Rajendra (exponents of the Kathak style), Manjari Sinha (dance critic and classical dancer) and Dr. Pallabi Chakravorty (an anthropologist and Kathak dancer). The panel was moderated by Christel Stevens, a Bharatanatyam/Manipuri dancer and teacher. The panel carried on a lively discourse amongst themselves and with members of the audience. Although the audience was small, the panelists and audience members spoke with great passion and many of the conversations continued after the event.
The performance part of the second day commenced with "Taal - Life Rhythms," choreographed by Asha Vattikuti and presented by the Kathakas (Neha Athale, Purvi Bhatt, Sheila Oak, Rashie Rastogi, Shreekant Vattikuti, Khilton Nongamaithm, Madhumita Sarkar, and Asha Vattikuti). The concept presented was that the universe itself is engaged in rhythmic motion in every aspect, thus each stage of human life has a unique rhythmic pattern. Using the rhythmic patterns of Kathak, the dancers portrayed the evolution of human life, from infancy to old age. The performances were uneven at times and more coordination amongst the dancers would have done justice to the creative concept. Purvi Bhatt was effective in her portrayal of a mother with her child. The dancers were accompanied by a live orchestra featuring Samrat Kakkeri, Subhashish Mekherji, Brian Sylver, Shubha Sankaran.
A Manipuri ensemble led by Christel Stevens and Khilton Nongmaithem presented "Lairen Mathek: Labyrinth" which showcased one of the very few examples of tandava performed by females in the Manipuri dance tradition. The piece included the priestess wielding a sword and driving out evil spirits from the four corners of the sacred ground. The movements were fluid yet precise. As it is quite rare to see Manipuri dance in the United States, the audience was treated to something unique. The ensemble also included Manjusha Nair, Ariadne Saklas, and Savitha Subramanian.
The highlight of the second day was "Bhaav Raag Taal" by Nirupama and Rajendra from Bangalore and their Abhinava troupe (Umalakshmi, Mridula, Sindhu, Deepa, Sowmya, and Punitha) in the Kathak style. The artists did a wonderful job presenting the Kathak technique in an entertaining and informative manner. The effective use of colorful costumes and lighting made for an enjoyable show. The program commenced with "Mangal Dhwani," a grand and auspicious opening. The item was well coordinated with all of the dancers doing their best to start the show with a powerful punch. "Raas" presented a colorful episode from the life of Lord Krishna where the gopis compete with one another for the affection of their beloved Lord. Each gopi thinks of herself as the most deserving of Krishna's love. To teach them a lesson, Krishna disappears leaving Radha and other gopis to lament their loss. Lord Krishna returns and the gopis learn to love unconditionally. A combination of Kathak and folk moves brought out the festive mood that is the very essence of Raas. "Angikam" was a creative presentation derived from Sage Bharata's teachings in the NatyaSastra. Dressed in simple black, so as to not distract from the information being presented, the choreography showed off various "building blocks" of classical Indian dance in an entertaining way. Through the use of eye, head and limb movements, the piece was an effective way to convey the basic grammar of classical Indian dance. The choreography also drew inspiration from Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam's research into the Karanas. "Ta-Dha" was a contemporary piece using the rhythmic pattern in various creative ways with the dancers always coming back to the two syllables ta-dha. The finale, "Kadam Kadam," displayed fast-paced footwork and was absolutely amazing to watch. All eight dancers were in perfect harmony with the music and with one another. Nirupama's interaction with the audience after each item was informative and showed off her spirited personality.
As a special note, the sound and the light technicians enhanced the overall feel of the two-day festival. The festival was generally a success in terms of audience turnout. On Day One, the auditorium was full for most of the performances. However, the numbers had thinned somewhat by the time the real highlight of the day, Madhavi Mudgal and troupe's Odissi started their performance. On Day Two, as mentioned earlier, there was limited turnout for the discussion panel. Although the audience included some dance students from the Washington area, it was a shame not to see more of the "youth" that the panelists were discussing. When such opportunities arise, dance teachers need to make more of an effort to persuade their students to attend and participate. The audience turnout for Day Two's performances, though sizeable, was noticeably less than Day One. An act like Nirupama and Rajendra certainly deserves better.
Congratulations to IDEA for putting together such a successful dance festival!
Aneal Krishnamurthy is an admirer of the classical Indian dance forms. Although a lawyer by profession, he has been deeply interested in promoting the classical Indian arts in the United States. Through his critical writings, he hopes to share his thoughts on the current state of classical Indian dance as well as the future direction the dance forms may take.