Bharatanatyam is the Indian classical dance form that I have been learning for the past ten years. There are two facets to this dance: nritta and abhinaya. Nritta involves pure rhythmic movements and dance with no real story behind it. Abhinaya, however, involves emotions and expressions that convey a story. As I have learned over these past years, the stories conveyed are universally understood. Bharatanatyam is a way for people of all cultures to connect through the conveying of emotion and story.
When I began training for my Arangetram, the typical showcase of all that a dancer has learned after he or she completes their training, I kept in mind the audience when choosing my pieces. The ability of all attendees to understand the concepts of love, fear, hate, anger, pride, and many more was extremely important to me. I weaved all of these concepts into the performance itself in order to create universality of concepts.
For the final piece, I chose a song entitled Vande Mataram. This song is originally an Indian patriotic song that reflects on the glory of India after it receives its independence. The song title translates directly to “I praise thee, mother”, and I decided to twist this to mean mother earth. In the background of the stage, I displayed a slideshow of the earth’s most breathtaking features, including American landscapes such as “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountain majesties,” and also Indian rivers and blossoming trees as described in the song. I hoped to connect with all members of the audience and bring everyone together in the presence of the thing that unites us all: Earth.
Maya Guru, 10th
From the Audience-
Altamont ensures that my days are filled with diversity. What my neighborhood deprives me of, the school compensates for. I walk around students and faculty of different hues, creeds, affiliations, and passions. Daily, I debate someone, student or faculty, on some potentially divisive topic, and, daily, I experience reality anew from the perspective of another. Perfect empathy may be impossible, but we get awfully close. Diversity challenges me, tempers my righteousness, enhances my interests, and keeps me growing. Perhaps a little entropy is a good thing!
When I walked into the foyer leading into ASFA’s Dorothy Jemison Day Theater, although I was a cultural minority, I felt right at home. Much of American culture depicts a fusion of styles. Not here. Instantly, the physical details of the scene transported me. The women and girls, in traditional saris or mekhela chadors, dazzled–the colors of the materials like some chromatic ideal, blistering in their radiance. The embroideries ornate and alive. Their jewelry and make-up evocative and beaming. For a guy whose favorite colors exist on the greyscale, this was a sight! The men, proudly wore humbler clothing. Like the women, they weren’t eschewing Western fashion; but they seemed naturally elegant. I saw a Nehru jacket, kurtas in modest and bold colors, and the shalwar kameez. I wished the Greeks and Italians had more distinctive clothing.
The clothing was just the overture.
I was comfortable because there was no pretense. Maya’s Arangetram celebrated community and tradition, it connected people to their heritage, and it was a powerful cultural export that gave me a little insight into Indian culture. I felt like my presence, as well as that of Maya’s friends and family, was an essential component of the recital. I felt like we completed the experience. What, after all, is a gift without a recipient?
The musicians were announced. This was a world-class collection of notable folks, and they were here to support Maya; our ears were attuned to the redolent sounds, but our eyes and minds were fixed on Maya.
There was a shrine. A celebration tempered by reverence and humility.
And then Maya began. Each dance like an invocation, an offering. I cannot summarize what I saw. Not knowing what to expect, I was overwhelmed. My impressions:
This isn’t hyperbole. When I greeted Maya’s mother after, I was effusive but tongue-tied! Perhaps for an outsider, it takes time to digest such an experience. Maybe if I had grown in the culture, with the sounds, and stories…
No; Maya’s Arangetram was one of those moments that, if one allows it, affects everyone profoundly.
Niko Tsivourakis, Global Initiative Director
This blog is the collective voice of every person involved in the Global Initiative. Just as the globe hosts billions of disparate voices, we hope this space will embody and embrace the same diversity.