For the first time, a troupe from the premier institution performed in the U.S.
Kalakshetra, one of the greatest institutions of Bharathanatyam, compared in stature, discipline and technique to internationally renowned ballet companies like the Bolshevik Ballet, had until recently, not performed in the U.S. This changed on the evening of Oct 1, for the NRI community of Houston, Texas, when Kuchipudi and Bharathanatyam dancer Ratna Kumar (recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Dance in 2011), of Samskriti, a Houston-based organisation that showcases Indian Art) brought them here.
Rathna says, “In 1994, when I was in Houston, my friend Thara Narasimhan (now President of Samskriti) and I often discussed the lack of a platform for Indian art forms here. We needed to start a non-profit organisation. I drove to Austin one morning, got the papers stamped and by evening, ‘Samskriti’ was founded. I remember calling Tara and telling her, ‘Yes! We got it!’”
Since then Samskriti has spearheaded the organisation of several workshops and classical Indian dance performances, including those by Alarmel Valli, Padma Subrahmaniam, Priyadarsini Govind, Kathak dancer Pratap Pawar from London, and Lakshmi Vishwanathan.
Samskriti has also organised a number of international conferences on Indian arts and the Kalakshetra performance was preceded by one such conference, “Indian Dance in a Global Context.” The conference was inaugurated by Sanjiv Arora, Consul General of India. Leela Samson, Director of Kalakshetra, delivered the keynote address. Anita Ratnam spoke about Narthaki.com, her internet dance space connecting dancers the world over. Several Indian dancers from the U.S. attended as well. The conference was open to all, even to those without a dance background.
According to Rathna, the aim of these conferences is not only to have a forum for dancers/artists but to have a public platform where anyone even remotely interested can participate and enhance their knowledge of the art form.
The evening’s performance by Kalakshetra was visually brilliant. It was called Spanda, which means Vibrations. Spanda Maatrika, the first set of pieces, explored in a series of subtly connected patterns, a dancer’s movement, in a spatial zone affected by the movements and vibrations created by other dancers in that same spatial arena. The choreographies were contemporary in the use of technique and music – they were a set of adavus, performed to unconventional rhythmic melody most of them in Hindustani raagas.
Leela Samson mesmerised the audience with her solos presenting excerpts from Kalidasa’s ‘Kumara Sambhavam,’ Raase Hari Miha (Ashtapati) followed by an adroit depiction of Dikshitar’s ‘Ardhanaareeshwaram’ in Kumudakriya.
The grand finale was the piece Charishnu, a fast paced set of adavus representing the movement of the planets among the constellations. The fantastic coordination of the dancers, their attention to technical detail and the refreshingly different pattern formations were further enhanced by the apt stage lighting design, and the precision and sharpness of body movements.
It was a memorable evening for Kalakshetra and the Indian audience here, thanks to Samskriti’s commitment to promoting Indian classical art forms in the U.S.
(The author, an alumnus of the Asian College of Journalism, freelances for Indo-American Newspaper, in Houston, the U.S.)