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A Step Apart Is A Step Forward

Nirmala Garimella

Dance forms don’t conform to a geographical border. A good thing too, if they didn’t travel at all, many of them wouldn’t even survive.

In their dance production “ Bharatanatyam – A Step Apart “Produced by: Maya Nambisan & Aparna Keshaviah, and performed recently as part of a fundraiser, the Group Sanchali has preserved the tradition and technique of the ancient dance form, while adapting it to a new interpretation. In the introduction, the dancer announces to the audience that in watching each traditional piece, they would notice a specific element that been changed in each dance form and that concept slowly emerges as the various pieces unfold.

The dances chosen for the evening were simple and traditional starting with a Pushpanjali, invoking Mahishasura Mardhini and ending with a Tillana. Yet, the Alarippu that is traditionally performed in a single Talam adapted the Panch Nadai ‘or multiple rhythms with the dancers entering in single formation one after the other and then performing together. The Jatiswaram depicted the Nava Rasas or the nine emotions and the Bhaja Govindam had the jathis matching up to the story of the transitions in a married life and the present day relevance of the spiritual teachings of Adi Shankaracarya. Other dances included a padam with scenes from the Ramayana. In the Tillana, the dancers moved across the stage into stark lines, then into wonderfully controlled patterns. They teemed around in a fusillade of groupings and the movements depicted the planets, earth and the heavens.

Supported ably by live music and orchestra, this group embellished the production with freshness and energy. All tastefully costumed and elegantly performed, the dancers showed their amazing vitality and flexibility and clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves. The choreography was full of wonderful movement ideas, and mingled smoothly with the existent steps.

Brook Allman and Nicole Lederman from the audience were fascinated, “I have never been to a classical dance concert before. Yet we had no difficulty in following the story. It is beautiful” Leslie Bishara who was also watching for the first time was delirious “It is amazing and wonderful. The music, costume and the colors” she gushed,” and then the facial expression and the eyes. Oh! There was so much happening at one given moment”. Aparna Sindoor, a well known dancer and teacher in the area commented “I am here to support the dancers. A good show. I have worked with some of them in the past and they are very talented”

It was an impressive production considering that these artists are full time students and professionals and have demanding and full schedules.

The show attracted a large crowd of more than 200 people and was a fundraiser for the Himalayan Institute Hospital. The event raised a considerable amount of money by the end of the evening.

Here is what the artists had to say regarding the show :

Aparna Keshaviah (producer, choreographer, performer)

“Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form; but that designation too often assumes that it remains standard and authoritative, rather than new and experimental. Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart explored the seam between what is classical and what is experimental, stitching together a wholly novel creation (e.g. a newly structured Alaripu in talamalika in which punctuation and accents are studied through mathematical rhythmic combinations). Furthermore, the performance was a synthesis of native Indian cultural elements, relatable to the contemporary diaspora population, rather than an exoticized fusion of Bharatanatyam with distant styles of dance and music. In this way, the production sought to maintain the durable integrity of the dance form while infusing it with modern life.

Maya Nambisan (Producer, choreographer, performer)

“When we first came up with the concept behind Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart, my goal was clear: I hoped to highlight the stylistic subtleties of this ancient art form and teach those unfamiliar with Bharatanatyam, about what makes this form unique. However, trite as it sounds, I feel as if I've gained much more than I have contributed. Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart gave me the chance to work with other artists who shared a similar passion for Indian classical dance and music. It was an instructive, challenging, but above all inspirational experience - because by composing and choreographing and working with such a talented group, I learned so much more about the artform than I could have in the guru shishya situation. Each member of Sanchali had something unique to contribute, so we each had something to learn".

Sonal Bhatt (choreographer, performer)

“Choreographing with and for others is very different from performing. For me, Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart was a unique opportunity to challenge my limits on how I think about myself as a Bharatanatyam dancer. This was a chance to synthesize years of training into the active experience of expressing my own ideas and creating my own meaning for my dance.”

Sumana Chintapalli (performer)

“The show was a wonderful experience and surpassed my expectations. All of the dancers were trained well and a pleasure to work with. I was surprised by the professional-level skills and talent of the musicians - all who pursue music as a hobby.”

Meera Pathmarajah (performer)

It was a beautiful experience to unite with so many talented and dedicated artists in the creation of a dance repertoire, that lead us to not only explore rhythm and expression, but our inner selves as well. I'm thankful to the Sanchali dancers and musicians for the opportunity to be part of an inspired team and creative endeavor.

Bevin Stark (performer)

“First of all it was a pleasure to dance with other committed women who with busy academic, professional and family lives still feel driven to continue to dance. It was interesting to watch the dances evolve and to experience the shift of energy within each piece as it moved from the traditional to the innovative. The Alaripu, danced as a solo is a calm awakening of the body and spirit, with the new choreography it became extremely powerful, intermittent synchronized pounding and the precision of a drill team awakened all the senses to the exploration of the different talas. I found the floor patterns in the Tillana very interesting and the energies of the dancers moving beside and around one another gave me the feeling of being within a kaleidoscope.“

Shalu Umapathy ( performer)

As a young professional, it is difficult to keep up with the arts in free time. This show gave me a chance to perform and reconnect with my culture, giving me the motivation to maintain and share art with others.

Gayathri Srinivasan (nattuvanar)

“I thought the show was exactly what it portrayed to do which was traditional yet innovative. To me tradition means a lot and the fact that this show was traditional all the way through was great. I am a dancer but due to personal reasons I could not dance for this show and was happy to be able to do nattuvangam for the show and be involved with it. All in all I had a wonderful time being a part of this show.”

Gaurishanker Chandrasekhar (Mridangam)

Bharatanatyama A Step Apart: It was indeed A STEP APART. We worked like a professional team than a team of professionals. It was great working with such talented artists in the Boston area.

Vasanthi Shridar (vocalist)

“For me, the most wonderful part of being involved with Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart was the wonderful time spent together as a group, forming lasting bonds and memories. This group was comprised of the some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever come across - all with a thorough understanding of their respective art forms and an unwavering eye to perfection. Everyone, without exception, was friendly, warm and appreciative. This collegial atmosphere of mutual respect was especially critical as we embarked on many a creative endeavor, toying with unusual and untested ideas. Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart was a first for each of us in several ways, and I am very thankful that it achieved such success from all perspectives.

Raghu Madyastha ( vocalist)

The show gave me a completely different perspective on carnatic music, its tight rhythmic association with dance. It gave me a chance to express myself through the motions and emotions of someone else, and that is a very unique experience. Above all, it gave me an immense sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at having shared in a beautiful and energized production.

Vivek Rudrapatna (violinist)

"As a violinist for the program, I found Bharatanatyam: A Step Apart to be uniquely enjoyable for me to be a part of because of the tremendous ingenuity and creativity underlying the program. I found myself playing a *far* more active role than in normal dance programs, which included the capacity for dynamic improvisations on the night of the performance as well as the actual composition of new music to suit the ideas of the choreographers. Such an experience was rewarding and left me seeking similar productions in the future. I also appreciated the fact that the proceeds were being donated to a very worthy cause."

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