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Dance Review: The Art and Tradition of Indian Classical Dance

MIT Natya Conveys Religion, Philosophy, and Mythology in Kresge Little Performance

By W. Victoria Lee
STAFF WRITER

Natyanjali: an evening of classical dance

MIT Natya

Kresge Little Theater

Sept. 30, 2005

The art world today is dominated by western or westernized art forms. When someone mentions a dance recital, ballet or tap immediately comes to mind. While contemporary choreography is infused with moves from various world cultures, the traditional dances of different cultures still have limited exposure outside their own spheres. Fortunately at MIT, where cultural diversity is emphasized, traditional performing arts of different cultures are never overlooked. We have had Senegalese drumming, Chinese lion dancing, Argentine tangoing, among others. Most recently, we had Natyanjali, an evening of Indian classical dance performances in Kresge Little Theater.

Natyanjali is an annual dance performance organized by MIT Natya. Formed in 1999, the group has been active on campus, putting on numerous shows and presentations. MIT Natya’s first event of the academic year, Natyanjali 2005, again proved the group’s exquisite performance and dedication to increasing awareness of Indian classical dance on campus.

Classical Indian dance is one of the world’s oldest dance traditions. Embodying religion, philosophy, and mythology, the classical dances of India offer otherworldly beauty and a spiritual, and sometimes humorous, experience for the audience. Among the seven distinct dance styles, three were exhibited in this year’s Natyanjali. Nine pieces were performed by eight dancers — each piece with its own mood and theme, each performer with his style.

A slower paced and reverential piece, “Mangalacharan,” performed by Namrata Verma ’08, kicked off the recital, suitably setting the invocative tone for an auspicious beginning. The rhythm and melody became livelier as the show continued. Sravanti Kusuma ’08 delivered a festive piece dedicated to the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha that had intricate footwork alternating between fast and slow steps. Kusuma’s singing and her red costume further enhanced the celebratory mood of the piece.

Before the intermission, the audience was treated with the only duet of the evening, “Jathiswaram,” performed by Shashank M. Sundareshan ’08 and Priyanka M. Sundareshan ’06. As the only male dancer, Shashank Sundareshan brought to stage a dynamic performance with his sister. The synchronization of the two dancers was almost perfect, and each move was exquisitely executed.

The performance following the intermission increasingly focused on the facial expressions, or abhinaya, of the dancers. In “Adhuvum Soluvaal,” Krithika Sridharan brought the story of a jealous heroine to life with her vivid facial portrayal of contempt, taunting, and playfulness. Harini Rajaraman ’07 elegantly executed a graceful dance of the peacock in praise of Lord Shanmukha. Most notable were her hand gestures that mimicked the silhouettes of a peacock and her step sequences that opened the pleats of her costume like a bird displaying its gorgeous feathers.

Priyanka Sundareshan made her second appearance in a solo dance depicting Lord Shiva, who dances lifting his left foot. The pieces required the dancer to hold numerous positions with the left foot lifted, and Sundareshan accomplished the balancing acts with graceful ease.

The most memorable part of the performance was the bells worn by all dancers. With their bare feet beating along with the music against the stage, the rhythm and melody became more tactile to the audience. Accompanied by their colorful costumes and adornments, the dancers themselves against the black background were moving works of art. Although the music featured singing in the Indian languages and could not be easily understood, the mood of each piece was successfully conveyed through the dancers’ movements. The unusual melody brought a breath of fresh air to minds so accustomed to the modern tune.

While the performance was nearly flawless, the venue left something to be desired. The space and audio limitations posed by the Kresge Little Theater failed to enhance the visual and aural quality of an already exquisite performance. While the audience sitting close to the stage had a clear view, the broader gesture of the dance sequence could be better experienced from a greater distance. Most of all, the spiritual quality of the music was lost in the small theater because almost no reverberation could occur. Nonetheless, MIT Natya put on a wonderful show that not only entertained but also educated the public about Indian classical dance. Although their next show has not been announced, it is eagerly anticipated by all who had the pleasure of experiencing this year’s Natyanjali.

More information about MIT Natya can be obtained from their Web site (http://web.mit.edu/natya/www/index.html).