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Agua, Thaneer, Water – Where Social Activism Meets Art

Ranjani Saigal

On Friday, March 22nd, the Navarasa arts academy presented an evening in dance-theater at the Tower Auditorium in the Mass College of Art. Over four hundred people attended the event. Audience always reacts passionately to works like this. Some love it others hate it. But “if I have my audience thinking and reacting, I have succeeded”, says Aparna Sindhoor the artistic director of Navarasa Academy, who along with her husband Raju Sivasankaran and a very talented group of International artists work hard to bring creative works to the Boston area.

The evening began with a haunting anti-war work inspired by Noriko Ibaraki’s poem – “When I was most beautiful” set to music by Peter Seger. This unique dance number, performed by Aparna explored the depth of tragedy that war inflicts on women. Aparna is a very well trained Bharatanatyam dancer who has added new dimensions to her dance by drawing from other dance forms, including modern dance, Indian folk dance traditions and African dance styles. The presentation was fundamentally Bharatanatyam but was beautifully blended in with other styles. Aparna sang many of the bars of the song and that added a wonderful dimension to the performance. The lighting and costumes greatly enhanced the production value of the piece. The presentation was breathtakingly beautiful.

The second piece, BarbieeNatyam, was a fusion of Bharatanatyam and modern dance that took a satirical look at Barbie Culture and how it affects the perception of women’s bodies. This was performed by Sonal Bhatt, Rosemary Candelario, Radha Kalluri, Kristin Kissik and Vyvyane Loh. The piece was, comical at times and sad at others. While the dancers had worked hard, this piece did not quite reach out to the audience.

This piece was followed by Agua, Thaneer, Water which used the challenging interplay of solo dance, music and theater to bring alive two stories about common people’s struggle to get water: one set in Madurai, India and another in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Raju Sivasankaran wrote the script for this piece. The presentation was grand. Aparna’s strong dancing and creative movements created a strong impression on the audience. The use of African drumming, Spanish music along with Indian classical music helped bring the universal nature of this problem to the forefront. Subramanya Bharathi (Thamizh) and Dr. Da. Ra. Bendre’s (Kannada) poetry set to classical music was used at many parts of the play. The subtle nature of these classics, clashed with the non-subtle street-theater nature of the script. But the audience sat riveted as the narrator, Aparna and the musicians took us through melodramatic moments in Madurai and Bolivia. I loved the strong feminist theme through the whole piece.

The script was well written. While it presented water as a “universal” problem, it simplified the complex water issue to a one-dimensional problem. It seems to indicate that “if an Indian born Yale educated MBA did not want to make a quick buck, water would have been plenty and available to the poor”. Having studied water resources management in my life as a civil engineer, I know that it is not a simple issue that can either be solved or wrecked by a “single Indian born Yale MBA” however great s/he may be:-)

As a dancer, I am only too aware of what it takes to put together a show of this nature. Creative works such as this need a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication with little or no monetary returns. The artists need a lot of courage to present such work since the audience is bound to have mixed reactions to the work. I commend all the artists of the evening for their incredible dedication and hard work.

The Natya Shastra tells us that as Bramha gave the fifth veda, i.e. the Natya Veda to the world, He urged people not to use this a tool for entertainment but rather to use it as a means to inform and educate people. I congratulate the artists for taking this commandment seriously.

(Photographs - Rich Fletcher )

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Aparna & Raju

When I was most beautiful


Aqua, Thaneer,Water

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