Panchatantra and Shiva Shakti by Sunanda's Performing Arts Center

June 10, 2010

On April 24, 2010, Houston audience witnessed a fine evening of dance drama performances by Sunanda's Performing Arts Center at The Stafford Civic Center. It was a colorful evening filled with energy and rhythm. Sunanda's Performing Arts Center presented two dance dramas, the story of the clever rabbit from Panchatantra, and Shiva Shakti. Distinguished guests to the program included the Honorable Mayor of Stafford, Leonardo Scarcella, Stafford Council Member, Ken Mathew, Sugarland Council Member, Tom Abraham and Serah Abraham, Missouri City Council Member, Robin Elakkatt.

The first half of the presentation was the tale from the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian animal fables believed to have been composed in 3rd century BC, of attractively told stories about the five ways that help the human being succeed in life. 'Pancha' means five and' tantra' means ways, strategies, or principles. The stories have been translated into nearly every language in the world that has a script. The story form appeals to children while the wisdom in them attracts adults. This was the main reason for choosing such a production to make it appealing to young students of dance and to introduce them to the dance in drama. The Panchatantra collection represents the earliest folk tale form in the world of literature.

The lyrics for the Panchatantra dance drama were in Hindi, and the research for this production was done by Sunanda Nair and Vaibhav Arekar. Music was composed by Ganesh Iyer, and he was assisted by Satheesh Krishnamurthy and Ambika Vishwanathan. The dance drama had dialogues in English and got the entire effort closer to the audience.

In the story of the clever rabbit, a greedy and ferocious lion unmercifully kills the animals in the forest. The scared animals decided to send one animal everyday to the lion so that the lion did not terrorize the others. Then one day, it was the turn of the wise rabbit that outwitted the lion by telling him that another, more ferocious lion lived in the well. The furious lion fell into the well trying to attack its reflection.

The dance drama brought to life, a forest teeming with greenery and wild life - the chirping birds, the strong elephants, the nimble deer, the slithering snakes, the bear, the rabbits and the big bad lion. Every animal character was vividly portrayed by the young dancers of the school and the angika abhinaya of each character was well chiselled out. Racheal Neycheryil depicted the fierce lion with great agility and swift easy movements and to add to it all, was the brilliant mukhaja abhinaya, which brought out the fierce character. Uvika Aravind, a brilliant Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam dancer, suited the role of the wise rabbit to perfection.

Bearing testimony to Sunanda's skills as an outstanding teacher and choreographer, the scenes were well etched out, especially the one where the representatives of each animal clan go to meet the lion. Jenny Simon as the jackal, Mamatha as the Mother elephant, Shilpa Dias as the baby elephant, Layaa Rajaa as the best friend of the wise rabbit and Marina Chandy as the bear, showed good abhinaya skills. The music, the interwoven commentary and dialogues in English and colorful costumes added to the overall effect.

The second dance drama of the evening was Shiva Shakti. It was a sparkling rendition of classical Bharatanatyam by Sunanda Nair as Shakti, Vaibhav Arekar as Shiva and senior students from Sunanda's Performing Arts Center.

Vaibhav Arekar is one of the leading exponents of Bharatanatayam. He has a Masters in Dance degree from Mumbai University and has also been a lecturer in dance at the University for 15 years. Vaibhav has been trained under virtuoso teachers Saroja Srinath, Thangamani Nagarajan and his mentor Dr. Kanak Rele. His Kathak training has been under Rajashree Shirke and theatre guidance under Chetan Datar. He has recently launched his own dance company Sankhya.

The first couple, Shiva and Parvathi the purusha and prakriti - were depicted in different metaphors and images painted vividly by Sunanda and Vaibhav through dance. Together they created the aura that expresses the harmonious interdependence of Shiva and Shakti. The presentation of Ardhanareeswara was a delightful treat to the audience, "Aiygiri Nandini" by Sunanda proved to be powerful and dynamic while Vaibhav moved the audience with his soulful presentation of 'Nandanar Charitam.'

The enormous amount of teamwork, coordination, perseverance, and dedication was evident throughout the evening. After the success of the dance dramas and tour to a few cities in the USA, Sunanda's Performing Arts has another reason to celebrate. Sunanda Nair recently received an award for her contribution to Mohiniattam from Kalasagar at the Kerala Kalamandalam on May 29, 2010.