by Chandy 

October 2001
The Sama Rathi hall at the Hindu temple of Greater Chicago was sparsely populated when I entered, but a decent crowd had gathered as minutes passed by. Unlike typical desi programs, this one started pretty much on time, though there were people who strolled in well after the middle of the program. 

Endowed with brilliant talent and stage presence, appropriate expressions, timing, and razor sharp precision in synchronization, the duo-couple Nirupama and Rajendra of Abhinava Arts Center, Bangalore, who performed in Chicago last weekend, are truly a connoisseur's delight. 

While the number of dance schools and dancers seem to be increasing exponentially, there are only a few who stand out - these dancers truly enjoy dancing and bring out the nuances of the art so beautifully. Belonging to this select group, Niru and Raju stood out in using expressions, skillfully and carefully crafted, mixed with appropriate speed and intensity. They enjoyed every moment, every small action, step and turn, and had the ability to totally transfer their joy to the audience. 

Though the program was supposed to be a kathak performance, the dances were a fusion of different styles that incorporated a variety of themes ranging from mythological stories to depiction of nature to abstract concepts. 

In their opening piece Krishna Vandana , the dancers exhibited an array of different roles of Krishna - as a playful child, raasleela, geetopadesa, and the vishwaroopa in the Mahabharat battle field. The portrayal of multiple stages of Krishna’s life was characterized by swift movements, fast changing expressions and excellent synchronization. 

The best piece - my personal favorite was Varsha , depiction of rain in an Indian village. The duo, through their dance, took the audience to a remote Indian village and made them get soaked in a delightful monsoon rain. The portrayal was elaborate as well as elegant. Be it the flower being swept by wind, or the peacocks dancing, or the gathering of clouds, or smaller drizzles gaining momentum to transform into fast-paced rain, or the lovers' tiff amidst the pours, it was wonderfully done. 

The third piece was a narrative from Ramayan, detailing the first encounter between Rama and Sita in a Mithila garden. This included a dream sequence where Ram and Sita dance together, and then come back to their realization that it was only a dream. The depiction of the transition in and out of the dream was excellent. 

Saath-Saath was an abstract dance sequence depicting the number "7" - that is significant as 7 colors, 7 musical notes, 7 days etc. In the next dance set to the Marati song "Rusuve Radha, Rusuve Madhav, Rusuve Gokul Saare”, the dancers portrayed the tiff between Radha and Krishna. The tiff extends to fishes that move away from each other, the peacocks that fold their wings in anger, the flower that refuses a bee, and the creepers that climb downwards from the trees. Each passage of the sequence was a treat to eyes, very impressive, drawing loud applause. The intricate footwork in kathak was well exhibited in the next dance, tarana . 

The final piece was on world peace, titled as Nigah. This dance was a blend of Indian, western and European styles, set to a cocktail of Indian, Spanish and Jazz music. This dance was also very impressive. 

There are a few things that need to be mentioned about this program. First is the eloquent commentary and descriptions provided by Nirupama before each dance. Second, the costumes were colorful. There was no over-dose of make-up or the costumes, an area where several dancers fail. In fact, some people in audience had more make-up done than the artists on stage. Third, Raju exhibited a great, rare quality in male dancers. Though he mirrored the steps of his female-counterpart, each step bore a distinct mark of masculinity. In a period where there are only a few men who take to classical dances, it was heartening to see a male dancer who doesn't mimic feminine movements. Fourth, the musical scores, though recorded, were excellent. Most of them were done by Praveen Rao. 

As the flyer for the program rightly said, it was indeed an enchanting evening of kathak. 

Date of performance: Sunday Oct 14, 2001.