S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

St. Louis Indian Dance Festival 2013


The fifth St. Louis Indian Dance Festival was held from 19 to 21 April in St. Louis, Missouri. It has successfully completed five editions under the able guidance of guru Prasanna Kasthuri. Soorya Performing Arts is a not-for-profit organisation in St. Louis, U.S.A. that has committed itself to promoting traditional Indian dance, music and other forms of allied arts.

This year, the festival had more than 150 artists performing on three days (both mornings and evenings). They came from India (Bangalore, Kolkata, Baroda, Bhubaneswar and Kochi), Paris, London and the US cities of New York, Detroit, San Jose, Alabama, Chicago, Cambridge, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cupertino, Wisconsin, Dallas and the host town of St. Louis. Seven classical dance forms (Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Mohini Attam, Manipuri, Sattriya and Odissi) and Yakshagana from India were presented at the festival. It showcased young artists as well as seniors with decades of experience and gave the rasikas a taste of the layers of artistry and the flow of tradition across generations. According to Prasanna Kasthuri, the chief convenor of the festival, “This dance festival gives equal opportunity to senior dancers as well as second generation Americans”. As an immigrant community in a foreign nation the organisers work hard to preserve classical Indian culture in a world of movies and entertainment.

The festival opened with the lighting ceremony by elder citizens of the Indian community. This was followed by group singing by the students of Seema Murthy Kasthuri, and a brisk dance presentation to the music of Chittibabu by the students of Prasanna Kasthuri.

Gatha Odissi, the final performance of the day was an elegant, polished presentation of Odissi by Aruna Mohanty and group. While the male dancers excelled in their energy, the female dancers matched them with their grace. The lighting and music support was excellent. Yudhishtira Nayak deserves special mention. Gatha Odissi touched the nerve of the audience and set an amazing standard for the dance festival. It was preceded by a graceful Kuchipudi recital by Sailaja Pullela (disciple of Vempati Chinna Satyam), Bharatanatyam by young Shalini Subbarao (disciple of Prasanna Kasthuri), and an energetic presentation of Yakshagana and Bharatanatyam by Prof. Mangala Anand and Rajendra Kedlaya. The duo presented Draupadi Vastrapaharana and Mohini Bhasmasura, using Bharatanatyam to portray lasya and Yakshagana for masculine characters.

The second day brought a touch of novelty. For the first time, Sattriya was presented at the St. Louis festival. It was an elegant presentation of the compositions of saint poet Sankardeva by Madhusmitha Bora, Prerona Bhuyan and Willow Swidler Notte. This was followed by another first for St. Louis – a presentation of Manipuri dance by Krishnakali Das Gupta. Some of the dances were choreographed by the late guru Bipin Singh. It was an eye catching performance.

If Bharatanatyam dancer Prakruthi Hoskere’s abhinaya was impressive, the rhythmical phrases in the Jaipur style of Kathak by Sharmila Sharma mesmerised the audience. Her rendition of Ahalya Uddhar and the tarana were impeccable. Prasanna Kasthuri presented a collaboration of Kathak and Bharatanatyam to live music. It was a novel idea and the nuances of both dance forms were well portrayed. He was ably assisted by Sushma Mohan (nattuvangam) and Seema (vocal). The dancers featured in the morning were Neha Kidambi, Smriti Bharadwaj, Joshua Cherian, and Anisha Gururaj.

The morning session on the concluding day had Bharatanatyam by Annuja Mathivanan, Ma Bavya, and Sowmya Kumaran. Sowmya inspired the young St. Louis dancers with her nritta and unhurried abhinaya. Manasvini Avvari stole the show with her elaborate Kuchipudi performed with commendable maturity.

The evening session began with a powerful presentation of Kathak by Sunaina Rao, who included a Bharatanatyam composition and rendered it in Kathak with ease. She also effectively presented a modern theme of injustice towards women. Kripa Baskran brought a team of talented Bharatanatyam dancers from Wisconsin. Sahasra Sambamoorthy used Bharatanatyam to portray different aspects of choreography; her portrayal of peacocks and peahens had the audience chuckling. Kathak exponent Prashanth Shah was majestic in his solos and also danced a duet with Sunaina. Though impressive, his performance fell short of the expectations raised by him the previous year. The concluding presentation was a Mohini Attam performance by Smitha Rajan, whose Jagadoddharana had the audience spellbound. The festival ended on a high note with mangalam by the Mohini Attam group.

Over the years, the St. Louis Indian Dance Festival has become a much awaited annual event in the St. Louis area. Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, whose brainchild it is, thanked the hundreds of volunteers and the Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts commission for their support and encouragement in the conduct of the festival.

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