This year Erasing Borders Dance Festival, organized by the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC), was really special since at the Downtown Dance Festival Day hosted by the Battery Dance company we had four major Indian dance forms represented: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, and Mohini Attam. Moreover, the first two forms were represented by stellar performers: Rama Vaidyanathan & Rani Khanam respectively. Then, two younger performers – Rahul Acharya (Odissi) and Vijaya Lakshmi (Mohini Attam) – who not only move beautifully but are fast becoming international stars.
My co-curator Uttara Coorlawala and I were happy also to get US groups do group Kuchipudi and even perform a folk dance of the Kalbeliya clan from Rajasthan for the Outdoor event, and Malini Srinivasan and Dancers, and students of Kathak guru Rachana Sarang for Indoors.
Jonathan Hollander, artistic director of The Battery Dance Company and a founding member of Aroon Shivdasani’s IAAC, has always wanted our festival to highlight a range of traditional dance forms – and I think we fulfilled that well this year. These performances were well reviewed in the media including The New York Times
To see the dancers performing among trees at Battery Park, the many members of the public stopping to watch and take photographs – some even during their lunch-time jogging – was quite remarkable. Rama Vaidyanathan did her ‘Mayuri Alaripu’ in a Peacock Feather Suite that was designed for the venue and looks wonderful in it. Vijaya Lakshmi, too, did a peacock dance, but we were happy that it did NOT usher in any rain! The whole program ended with a wonderful duet by Rani Khanam and Rama doing a Tarana-Thillana based on a musical form that the south borrowed from north Indian music.
The indoor performances at La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theater included Kamala Devam from the UK who does contemporary work based on Bharatanatyam, and also two local groups: Malini Srinivasan and Dancers (who were such a hit at the NY Fringe festival last year) and a group of vibrant Kathak dancers taught right here in New York by Guru Rachana Sarang.
Particularly delicious moments were found in Rahul Acharya’s poem from the Gita Govinda, and in the energy of the young Kathak group. Kamala Devam’s strong movements convinced many skeptics of the power of contemporary work based on traditional forms. The day of workshops, film screenings and a panel discussion were also well attended by members of the ever-growing dance community from the greater New York area.
The press coverage of this and another Indian music and dance festival held a week later – six major articles in five days, imagine! - has, I hear, much of the regular (ballet and modern) dance community quite bemused. Even Karen Brooks Hopkins, President of the Brooklyn Music Academy, commented on the reception of Indian dance in the area’s papers. A Sunday Times of India feature also touched upon the current successes of Indian dance in the US. So this is the time, as a good Indian, to say “thook, thook” (‘spit’ ‘spit’).
The festival continues to make waves outside New York too, and we have people applying from all over the world. I suppose it is some measure of success when irate parents call up the IAAC office, enraged that their dear ones have not been selected!
As we move into the beginning of a new season – we look forward to seeing Nrityagram’s Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen at a major dance festival of the world: New York City Center’s Fall for Dance at which tickets sold out within hours of going on sale. Producers and dance lovers from all over the world fly in to see 20 of the best international dance companies perform indoors over 10 days plus two free open-air concerts in the Delacorte Theater in Central Park featuring four stellar New York dance companies.
And the moment that is over we have the awards ceremony for The New York Dance and Performance Awards (popularly known as “The Bessies”) held on October 7th at the Apollo Theater on 125th Street. I am one of the many presenters, and am thrilled that there are two Indian dancers nominated in the top category of Best Performance: Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa and the Bharatanatyam dancer-choreographer Hari Krishnan. They are up against the best of ballet and modern dancers but my fingers are crossed!
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