by Wilma Salisbury  
Plain Dealer Dance Critic  

October 2002

In India, classical dance and live music are inseparable The dancer matches the percussionist's intricate rhythms with stamping feet and tinkling ankle bells. She moves gracefully to the sensuous melodies of flute or violin. She uses facial expressions, stylized movements and sculptural poses to evoke poetic texts sung by the vocalist.  

When Sujatha Srinivasan began dancing more than 20 years ago in her native India, she worked closely with musicians. But when she moved to Ohio in the early '90s, she no longer had access to Indian singers and players proficient in Bharatha Natyam, the classical dance form she practices. Sujatha made do with recorded music, and established a fine reputation as a performer, teacher and cultural emissary for Cleveland's Indian community. But not until Saturday night at Case Western Reserve University's Strosacker Auditorium did she have the opportunity to show what a difference live music makes.  Her concert, "Samarpana," was a dazzling display of virtuosity, strength, stamina and charm.  

Always a compelling performer, the accomplished dancer was buoyed to a higher plane by her collaboration with vocalist Babu Parameswaran, mridangam (percussion) player Janardhanan Rao and flutist V K Raman. Seated cross-legged onstage, the musicians from India not only inspired the dancer but also put on quite a show of their own. For the first part of the three-hour program, Sujatha wore a traditional costume of bright rose silk with tightly fitted bodice, wrapped trousers and a center pleat that formed a fan. Her nose, neck, arms and body were adorned with sparkling jewels. Her hands and feet were painted red. Her flashing eyes were outlined in kohl. Her hair was plaited with faux flowers, her long black braid secured with a gold belt. At intermission, she changed into a royal purple costume of the same design. The colorful fabric, heavy makeup and elaborate jewelry made the dancer resemble an Indian Scheherazade, an exotic and tireless teller of fantastic stories from Hindu mythology.  

The narrative dances were introduced by emcee Kamala Raghavan, who read explanatory notes as Sujatha demonstrated movements that defined the characters and their actions. With precise gestures and clear mime, the dancer portrayed a  panoply of gods and goddesses. Switching effortlessly from the masculine to the feminine, she carried on dialogues and established relationships. Especially touching was her evocation of mother and child in a song composed by Dr. Chaya Swamy of Westlake. The most powerful piece, however, was "Varnum: Omkara," a tour de force extolling the supremacy of the mystical sound "OM." Though most pieces were narrative, a bravura pure dance brought the performance to a breathtaking climax.  

While Sujatha performed with razor-sharp movements of every body part from eyebrows to toes, the musicians played and sang with improvisatory freedom. Vocalist Parameswaran led the ensemble, wailing with his high baritone and setting tempos with his clanging finger cymbals. Although his voice was highly amplified, he frequently signaled the sound engineer to turn up the volume. Percussionist Rao was equally casual as he tuned hand-drums, waved away the spotlight and broke into torrents of rhythm. Flutist Raman improvised with jazzy inflections and drew rich tones from his collection of wooden instruments.  

Presented by the India Development & Relief Fund, the concert benefited Maithreyi Gurukulam, a school for the primary education of girls in rural India. The lengthy evening was made even longer by a fund-raising presentation before intermission and effusive expressions of gratitude to the performers and honored guest, Cleveland law director Subodh Chandra. Although the speeches seemed interminable, there was no ennui when Sujatha was dancing.