by Christel Stevens, Maryland 
e-mail: stellaguru@yahoo.com

December, 2001

Indian Dance Educators Association presented a panoramic view of India’s diverse dance and music traditions over the course of a weekend at Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale. Guest artists from India shared the Ernst Center stage with performers from Canada and the United States, in “Jhankaar,” a series of showcases featuring India’s varied regional styles. The most appealing performances were turned in by two sets of male and female duet dancers.  

On Friday evening the concert opened with a lamp-lighting ceremony by the honorary patrons, Ambassador of India Lalit Mansingh and his wife, Mrs. Indira Mansingh. The curtain opened to reveal two dancers draped in translucent white veils, which covered their faces but revealed their slow, statuesque gestures. The veils were swept off into the wings to reveal the husband-and-wife team from Bangalore, India, Nirupama and Rajendra. This attractive pair performed “Nigah,” an innovative composition based on Kathak, a glamorous court dance from Northern India, accompanied by an original combination of flamenco guitar and Indian tabla drums. Kathak dance is ruled by rhythm, since the dancers wear heavy bells and use them in perfect synchrony with the tablas, but Nirupama and Rajendra made the rhythmic fireworks take a backseat to their light, feathery runs and spins. Unusual as it is to see Indian dancers up on their toes, these two have made it a trademark, alternating airy flight with grounded poses, all performed with a charming attention to one another that brought audible sighs of pleasure from the audience. When Nirupama took center stage, Rajendra seemed to be pulled towards her as a bee to a flower, spiraling ever nearer. Together, they adopted several typically Spanish poses while emphasizing Indian footwork, clearly referring to the historical contribution made by gypsies of Indian origin to the flamenco style.  

From this promising start, the festival continued late into the night, and for two days thereafter, in an ambitious attempt to include as many different dancers and techniques as possible. Abha Roy and Anup Das of New York headed a cast of local Washington area Kathak dancers in a very traditional production of “Meghdut,” directed bu Asha Vattikuti. On Saturday’s matinee, four D.C.-area Kuchipudi dancers presented a sparkling “Krishna Parijatam,” with the lovely Lakshmi Babu giving a fiery appearance as Satyabhama.  

On Saturday evening, a Contemporary Showcase featured Bipasha Guptaroy’s very artistic homage to Uday Shankar. Her delicacy made the modern technique seem as fresh as tomorrow, though the year 2000 marked the great innovator’s centenary. Raka Maitra performed a very subtle peacock dance in Seraikella Chhau style, then joined with Sukanya Mukherjee in a performance of  “The Path,” an imaginative production which gave the audience a taste of India’s village life at it chronicled a day in the life of a footpath. 

Indian musicians appeared late Saturday evening, in a showcase entitled “Sangheet Sabha.” Local singer Subhashish Mukherji gave an impressive demonstration of classical Hindustani vocal music, accompanied by Pandit Ramesh Mishra on the sarangi, a bowed string instrument of great antiquity and unforgettably mournful, almost-human voice. Mukherji infallibly delineated the intricate semi-tones that lie hidden between the notes of the Western scale, while delicately fingering his tanpura, a tall drone instrument. Then the stage was taken by a well-known sitarist from India, Pandit Debabrata Chaudhury, accompanied on tabla by Sandip Burman. In recognition of the late hour, Chaudhury chose to explore Raga Darbari, a theme appropriate to midnight in a royal court. His rendition of this unusual raga was romantic rather than fiery, with a sweetness that kept the hundred or so die-hard devotees in their seats until past the prescribed midnight hour. 
On Sunday afternoon, the power of duet dancing again cast a spell over the crowded auditorium. Devraj and Ellora Patnaik, a brother-sister team from Toronto, garnered a standing ovation for their performance in Odissi style. Odissi, an Eastern Indian technique, is marked by sinuous movements of the spine and arms, and Devraj, in particular, has mastered the sensuous style. In the dance entitled “Hara Hari,” Devraj composed both music and dance, and performed with a barely-concealed fire that had people in the front rows fanning themselves. His movements matched his sister’s perfectly, but his large smoldering eyes, mobile head and neck, and strong curvilinear gestures over-shadowed her more delicate technique. She was the perfect feminine foil, however, and together they were impressive as exemplars of tandav and lasya, the masculine and feminine aspects of Indian classical dance. 
The festival concluded with a bravura display of Bharata Natyam, a south Indian form, presented by Shobhana, a visiting movie actress, along with some of her young disciples. IDEA dedicated the proceeds of this festival to a fund for the victims of September 11th terrorism, and the program closed with a stirring performance of the U.S. national anthem by Emily Motayed, a dance student from Potomac, Maryland. 

Christel Stevens is artistic director of Nritya Rangam.