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PEM's Sensational India - A Delightful Experience

Ranjani Saigal

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) celebrated a 200-year legacy of cultural exchange with India, the longest of its kind in America with their annual Sensational India! weekend festival where the rich traditions of Indian art and culture are honored. This year's Sensational India! was headlined by Academy Award-winning director, James Ivory.

The event which is supported in part by Sameer Desai, Raj Sharma, Saloni Fadia and others has become a two day cultural immersion experience for non-Indians and Indians. The Rangoli and Madhubani art exhibition and workshop gave people a  feel for the traditional visual arts from India.  Brilliant dance performances and music performances showcased the performing arts of India while Mehendi, Bangle making , Story telling , Saree workshop served as a fun way to expose little children to Indian culture.

Sunanda Sahay's exquisite display of Madhubani Art and Vidya Kalyaraman Ragoli exhibition showcased some of the finest creations of these art forms.

Chicago based Natya Dance theater presented some signature pieces from their production Shakti Chakra. Their presentation combined brilliant group choreography with highly technical Bhartanatyam choreography that was quite a visual delight. Of note was the piece Govindan Kuzhal Osai Kettu where the artists inclusion of the group movements depicting a flock of birds and Rasa leela brought a unique and delightful tilt to a traditional piece.

James Ivory's discussion of his work was wonderful as the audience learned about the influences that helped shape his work. " I always present Indian tales from the point of view of an outsider.  While I love India and have spent a considerable amount of time their I can never be Indian or think like an Indian" said Ivory.  He spoke about the influence of Satyajit Ray in his work. After many great successes, Ivory returns to arthouses once again this week with The city of your destination an adaptation of Peter Cameron's 2002 novel of the same name.

While for some this was a first time visit to the festival, for many it had become an annual ritual. Looking at the depth and the breadth of the festival one can understand why..

Looking forward to next spring with Sensational India 2011.

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