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Dancing The Gods

If dancing deities conjure up images of Ganesh in ballet shoes moving gracefully en pointe, then you may want to expand your vision by heading over to Symphony Space on April 23rd and 24th for an amazing festival where exquisite dancers embody the Indian gods in a sacred practice – which turns out to be a form of meditation and yoga as well.

The festival, presented by the World Music Institute, features two styles of classical dance- Bharata Natyam developed in South India and Kathak from the North.

The first night, Mythili Prakash, a dark-haired beauty bedazzles in her own radiance of light, and performs JWALA - The Flame which explores the powerful burning light. Her dance consists of five parts that move from the godly to the worldly, and then into the esoteric realm, as Indian art often does.

For Mythili, the attraction was this multi-faceted illumination, "The Flame is fascinating – strong, yet vulnerable. And it is this enigmatic quality that has given rise to this work. The same flame that burns is that which illumines. It’s about saying good-bye and looking ahead, about release and hope, about shedding and seeking.”

She stops, “Are you the fire that burns, or the light that illumines? This piece tells a story of life and death through the silent witness, the flame.”

The flame as the connector of all worlds - cosmic, temporal, and spiritual - is a guiding force behind her work which she considers to be a form of yoga that integrates mind, body and spirit. “On the physical level, the postures are actually based on the principles of yoga. Each of the stances from which movements arise are meant to generate a harmony in the body that works to balance body and mind in a way similar to yoga,” she explains.

Meditation also plays a part. “Dance requires complete mindfulness - in the bringing together of movement, music, and rhythm at the present moment. The dance takes this one step deeper, as there is an expressive element that requires the dancer to emote. All of this together makes dance not just a physical activity, but an experience.

The second night, Rage and Beyond - Irawati’s Gandhari, is a more secular story, yet its main character is just as revered as the Indian gods and goddesses.

This is the retelling of the great Indian epic Mahabharata which spans the lives of five generations of kings and told from the perspective of the iconic queen Gandhari who wears a blindfold. It is inspired by - and interspersed with excerpts from Irawati Karve's book Yuganta - one of the first contemporary interpretations of the Mahabharata from a socio-political perspective.

Sanjukta Wagh is considered a great Indian actress, as well as a trained Hindustani singer. She tells the story with incredible feeling through spoken and sung text, silences and Kathak movement. She is accompanied by acoustic guitarist Hitesh Dhutia.

“In the rewriting of Irawati’s Gandhari in dance, music, and text, I am trying to keep the pulse of this character as imagined by her author alive in my moving-thinking body. There is tremendous ebb and flow that inevitably happens when one permeates an archetype, a mythological character like Gandhari, who is so deeply entrenched in Indian cultural consciousness,” said Wagh who wears a blindfold throughout the performance.

“I explore Gandhari’s complex and shifting relationship with her blindfold. In doing this, I endeavor to reveal the uneasy contradictions of her inner experience and her various roles as a woman in the times of the Mahabharata.”

But the dancer/actress also explores the journey in present time in this dance, and she feels the difference, “I encounter my own rage and the blindfolds that we perhaps unconsciously inflict upon our individual and social selves,” she said.

Both evenings are rich with meaning, ancient cultural icons, and history so the organizers have planned to conclude the evening with a Chat & Chai when the audience can meet the performers, ask questions, and learn more about the stories being told. It is an evening not to be missed.

For more information visit the website of World Music Institute by clicking here.

--Elysha Lenkin

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