5th St. Louis Indian Dance Festival: Bigger and better
- Kumuda Prabhakar & Anitha Nagendra
Pics courtesy: Soorya

April 27, 2013

The 5th St. Louis Indian Dance Festival is one of its kind in the USA that has successfully completed five editions. This year, this festival had more than 150 artistes performing on three days (both mornings and evenings). It boasted of having seven classical dance forms and a folk art form from India. It may be one of the few dance festivals presented out of India in its fullest extent. It showcased artistes of varied age groups, from youngsters to seniors with decades of experience. Both layers of artistry showed a flow of tradition across generations.

April 19
On the first day, the festival began with a lighting ceremony by elder citizens of Indian community. This was followed by a group singing by the students of Seema Murthy Kasthuri, followed by a quick dance presentation to the music of Chittibabu by the students of Prasanna Kasthuri. Sailaja Pullela, a senior disciple of maestro Vempati Chinna Sathyam presented a graceful Kuchipudi presentation. She performed the Tarangam with ease. This was followed by Bharatanatyam by young Shalini Subbarao, a disciple of Prasanna Kasthuri. She presented Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar’s sapthapadi, “Geluvu Guluvu”, followed by a Kannada Pada varnam  “Shringara Chaturane” in which she skillfully portrayed the playful nature of the heroine, who wishes to be united with Lord Krishna. Shalini was ably accompanied by Prasanna Kasthuri on nattuvangam, Seema on vocal, Venupuri Srinivas on mridangam, Savitha on violin.

This was followed by an energetic presentation of Yakshagana and Bharatanatyam by Mangala Anand and Rajendra Kedlaya. Both of them wonderfully explored the beauty of Bharatanatyam for lasya and Yakshagana for masculine characters through the presentation of scenes from Mahabharatha – Draupadi Vastrapaharana and Mohini Bhasmasura. The final performance ‘Gatha Odissi’ was a mature, elegant, polished presentation of Odissi by Aruna Mohanty and her fellow dancers. The entire performance was flawless and wonderful. The dancers were in superb form and it was a delight to watch them. While the male dancers excelled in their energy, the female dancers matched them with their grace. It lost its appeal once they began their folk and modern dancing. However, the lighting and music support was exalting. Guru Yudhishtira Nayak deserves special mention. Gatha Odissi hit the nerve of the audience and set an amazing standard for the dance festival.

Slide show

April 20
The second morning began with youngster Neha Kidambi presenting an Kuchipudi recital. She executed the nritta with flair and her abhinaya was erudite. A pleasant Smriti Bharadwaj presented a calmer version of the Reethigowla varnam “Sri Krishna Kamalanatha.”  Joshua Cherian impressed the audience with his broad rechakas and utplavanas. His expressions were elaborate and he covered the stage well. Anisha Gururaj presented a beautiful dhruva tala alaripu followed by varnam. She showed keen alertness in her abhinaya and presented a beautiful rendition of jathis.

The evening show began with an elegant presentation of Sattriya dance by Madhusmitha Bora and group. They began their performance with a Guru Bandhona followed by Karatala Kamala, both compositions of legendary poet Sankaradeva. They presented Chali, followed by Jayo Jayo Ram, where they narrated the story of Lord Rama very effectively. The dancers Madhusmita Bora, Prerona Bhuyan and Willow Swidler Notte brought the valuable art of Sattriya for the first time to St. Louis. This performance was followed by another first for St. Louis, a presentation of Manipuri dance by Krishnakali Das Gupta. They presented Pontha Jagoi, Anangkshep, Kaliya Dhaman, Dashavathar. Some of these dances were choreographed by Guru Bipin Singh. It was an eye catching performance.

Prakruthi Hoskere balanced her Bharatanatyam performance with smaller dance numbers which were split across nritta and abhinaya. She came out very well with the execution of Shiva Stuti, and rendered wonderful abhinaya for Kanjadalayatakshi. The expressions of Vasaka sajjika nayika, who waits for her beloved, was presented very well.  The presentation of Jaipur style Kathak by Sharmila Sharma of non-stop rhythmical phrases mesmerized the audience when Dhamar taal was presented after her initial presentation of Ardhanaarishwaram. Her rendition of Ahalya Uddhar and Tarana were impeccable. Prasanna Kasthuri presented a collaboration of Kathak and Bharatanatyam with live music. It was a novel idea and portrayed the nuances of both dance forms well. He was ably assisted by Sushma Mohan on nattuvangam, Seema on vocal.

April 21
The third morning began with a beautiful presentation of Bharatanatyam by Annuja Mathivanan. She performed popular pieces such as Idathu Padam, Thaaye Yashoda with ease. She was followed by Bhavya Kumaran, who inspired the young St. Louis dancers with her perfect sense of nritta and calm abhinaya. Manasvini Avvari stole the morning with her full scale embellishment of Kuchipudi with an advanced level of maturity. She presented her Tarangam with ease and was applauded by the audience many times.  Ma Bavya’s pleasant Bharatanatyam presentation ended the morning session.

The evening session began with powerful presentation of Kathak by Sunaina Rao. She showed her ability for nritta in Dhamaar, took a Bharatanatyam piece and rendered a Kathak dance with ease. She also presented a modern theme of injustice towards women effectively though it raised some questionable accusations such as stone throwing towards unfaithful women in India. (Was she thinking of India or Islamabad?) She however stole the hearts of the people with her brisk moves.

Kripa Baskran brought a team of talented Bharatanatyam dancers from Wisconsin, who presented a neat, elegant performance. Kripa’s creativity in using the Reetigowla varnam to portray the life story of Lord Krishna was commendable. Sahasra Sambamoorthy presented some unique works with slow, yet steady movements using Bharatanatyam to portray different aspects of choreography. Her portrayal of peacocks and peahens had the audience chuckling. Prashanth Shah was as majestic as always. He presented one solo with more of his playful footwork, later a duet with Sunaina. He was impressive but more was expected from him, like in the previous year. The last part of the show was a Mohiniattam performance by veteran dancer Smitha Rajan. She presented spell binding abhinaya to Jagadodharana. The festival ended on a high note with mangalam by the Mohiniattam group.

The St. Louis Indian Dance Festival is now an annual event to look forward to in the St. Louis area. The person behind the festival, Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, thanked the hundreds of volunteers and the Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts commission for their support and encouragement and welcomed all the artistes and art lovers to come back next year.