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Ritu-Dancing through the seasons
- Anita Vallabh

March 10, 2019

Five classical dances, nineteen ensembles, one hundred and fifty seven dancers came together to give wings to their imagination and to celebrate the joyous abundance of nature on January 26, 2019 at the Mission City Center for Performing Arts, Santa Clara, CA.

A sterling initiative of Yuva Bharati, an organization spearheaded by enthusiastic volunteers under the able leadership of the Yuva Bharati committee, this year's title was 'Ritu- Dancing through the seasons'. Thematic initiatives offer a challenging framework to dancers, channeling their perceptual attention to a specific idea. They provide an opportunity for dancers to chart the artistic course of their vivid imagination, to choose from the myriad possibilities of emotions, movement, and music and let new aesthetics emerge.

The nineteen featured ensembles surprisingly conformed to traditional expressive techniques and seemed to prefer simple rhythmic movement patterns versus their more complex counterpart. Uncorrupted by any artifice it was heartening to see young dancers flow in synchrony and strive to reach their best potential. As an outsider watching, it was a revealing moment to see how the movement choices of the dancers embodied in a very specific way the cultural context and values of Bay area artists.

The simplicity of the approach worked in enhancing the graceful beauty of the five classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, and Odissi. There was no urgency to impress or to set a new standard of virtuoso performance. Each group offered a unique blend of choreographic intent, presenting the relationship between the grandeur of seasonal changes and the human emotional landscape. The narrative of each piece was simple, honest and linear in arrangement. Independently, the energy of each piece showcased the emotional bearing of its choreographer and offered a broad range of emotional perspectives. Thus the advent of seasons inspired love and compassion, hope in despair, explored diversity, beauty, growth, abundance, and endurance. It was a commendable joint effort among the volunteers of Yuva Bharati, dance teachers, and students.

A special mention to the backstage volunteers and the technical team for having successfully captured the grace and style of the dancers on stage with their artistic sensibility and discerning eye for details. Sridevi Haridasa and Anu Yagati for providing excellent audio quality, Vijaya Saradhi Chilakamarri and Varsha Satish for sensitive lighting, Raka Gupta for effective backstage management, Deepa Mahadevan and Vinay Srinivasan for their crisp introduction of the dances, Shobhana Swamy, Padmanabha Rao and Praneetha Raja for video support, Naga Raju Narayanswamy for photography and a big shout out to Krishna Sastry and Sumathi Natesan for effectively executing the onerous task of managing the event and coordinating the various dance schools

As I conclude, I will be failing if, as a passionate dancer, I did not bring some pertinent observations to the table. Firstly, all dances exist in a complex network of relationships to others in the artistic community and within the broader society. Therefore we are individually and collectively responsible for the trajectory of our arts. That being said, do we not honor the dance and respect the dancer by just showing up and being fully present from the beginning to the end of the pilgrimage, that every dance recital really is? I noticed parents, students and unfortunately, even teachers begin to leave the venue when their group finished their performance.

When we commit to this discipline should we not heed its teachings? Shastras inform us that what we learn from our teachers is only a quarter of what needs to be learned (Achāryāt Pādam ādatte), another quarter we learn from our intelligent and intuitive understanding, (Pādam siśyaḥ-svamedhayā), a quarter we learn by observing our colleagues (sa-brahmachāribhyaḥ pādam) and the last quarter we learn over time from our life experiences which inform our practice (Pādam kālakrameṇa ca).

Secondly, every opportunity that a dancer is given is an invitation to learn, to grow, to honor, to respect and nourish the spirit. Whenever dancers set aside the time for practice and for choreography amidst all their personal challenges, something deep within begins to shift and joyously unfold. We, as dancers have to respect that evolution within us and those of others.

As a dancer, I salute all the volunteers that brought this magnificent event together and continue to provide great service to the art and artists. They open their hearts and time so that we artists can feel what the ancient Greeks say about happiness - 'the joy of striving for our potential.'

Anita Vallabh is the artistic director of Aeka Natya Yoga and Affiliate Graduate Professor at the University of Hawaii, Theatre and Dance Department. She is a trained classical dancer from the Bharatakalanjali tradition of The Dhananjayans, and certified Yoga teacher from the Himalayan Institute, Pennsylvania. She is the author of 'Message in Movements.'