Earth Speaks
by Samudra Dance Creations
Cowell Theatre
May 25, 2019 San Francisco

May 17, 2019

The thought kernel for ‘Earth Speaks’ happened couple of years back when Jyotsna Vaidee, the founder and artistic director of Samudra Dance creations took her two elementary school going kids to visit her favorite holiday spot - The Columbian icefield glacier park in Canada. “I was shocked to learn from our guide and see in front of my eyes that just in the last decade the glaciers had receded so much that we had to travel much further to see them. What hit home to me was the environmental future of my kids.” Jyotsna anguished that this was very close to her heart and being an artist she turned to the arts to heal and cope. Through ‘Earth speaks’ Jyotsna seeks to open a dialogue about this state of affairs through dance. She believes that a dialogue, a conversation, could be the starting point for several solutions. So, whether we buy into the idea of global warming or not, she wants to create a space for dialogue through ‘Earth speaks.’

Jyotsna humanizes earth through ‘Earth speaks.’ She is not a distant plant, tree, mountain or glacier, she is one of us - our sister, friend, daughter, wife.  How would we react if we know, can see, understand and feel  that our loved one is losing a little bit of her life breath each passing second by every mindless act of ours. ‘Earth speaks’ presents the story of earth, a woman with feelings, desires, love, hope, and pain and tugs at our heart strings for empathy. Mind you, the Earth isn’t screaming out to save her. Jyotsna asks, “We are the earth and I will remain but will the earth as ‘we’ remain?” She wants to tap into our thinking-feeling space. She believes art, with its lurking tones, hues, and movementscapes can move us and create lingering effects much past our encounter with it.

Jyotsna wrote the original script for ‘Earth Speaks’ that also draws inspiration from stories of people who have lived in harmony with nature. Jyotsna’s friend, Alyssa Ninan Nickell who has worked with her in few of her past projects has written spoken word poetry to bring Jyotsna’s vision to the fore. Here is a glimpse of Alyssa’s powerful poetry that frames this work.

“I am, I am She, she who from the womb split in two 4.562 billion years ago.
4.562 billion years of starts and stops and push and pull
Woven as one. We are the earth. I am she.”

Jyotsna is a professional Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer. Thus, like her previous works, she has used the movement vocabulary from this South Indian classical dance form predominantly in her choreography for this work. Her dancing ensemble also comprise of well trained Bharatanatyam dancers. She is quick to add that while Bharatanatyam still forms the core movement vocabulary for her ensemble, she does not want her dancers to approach this creative project like they would a traditional Bharatanatyam dance item like a varnam or alarippu. She wants her dancers to embody the idea of ‘Earth Speaks’ in their being; the dancers are figments of this idea and the idea comes through only with their collective bodies feeling the essence of this in the way they move, hold their bodies and faces. ‘Earth speaks’ thus stays away from literal storytelling on one hand and does not draw from popular Indian literary works on the other- both largely used in traditional Bharatanatyam presentations. It uses spoken word poetry to open space for dialogue for, by and with Earth. While firmly rooted in Bharatanatyam, Jyotsna has also been working with K.T. Nelson, Artistic Director of ODC (Oberlin Dance Company) in San Francisco to explore contemporary choreographic approaches to her work.

Snigdha Venkatramani, a prolific dancer, musician, teacher and choreographer has scored music for ‘Earth speaks.’ The music is largely rooted in the Carnatic music genre typically paired with Bharatanatyam while some instruments like the Cello and Djembe that are outside the realm of instruments used in Carnatic music have been added for creating the desired effect. The music has been recorded with local Bay area musicians. Ravindrabarathy Sreedharan - percussion, Vikram Raghukumar - violin, Ashwin Krishnakumar - flute, Chethna Sastry and Jyotsna Vaidee - nattuvangam.  On the western instruments Misha - cello and Arun Viswanathan- djembe.
The company dancers in this production are all from the Bay Area- Kaavya Ram, Shreya Iyer, Surya Ravi and Yashodha Patankar.  A preview of the longer evening-length work of ‘Earth Speaks’ will be premiered and presented for the 2019 San Francisco International festival on May 25th at Cowell Theatre. Jyotsna and the Samudra team have plans to present the full-length evening work later this year.

Link to festival: