Recital shows off classic Indian dance


Members of the Jathiswara School of Dance and Music perform Alarippu during their sixth annual recital held at the India Cultural and Education Center on Saturday, September 7, 2013.

The Gainesville Sun/Elise Giordano
Published: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 9:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 9:12 p.m.

Rhea Bansal's grandfather used to love watching Bharatanatyam dancers when he was in India. So, when Rhea showed an interest in dancing, he pushed her to learn the dance form.

After doing some research, Rhea, 14, of Jacksonville, and her grandfather found Mathura Alladi and her Jathiswara School of Dance and Music.

That was eight years ago. Since then, Rhea has completed her Arangetram, a two-hour performance by students that marks their graduation and allows them to perform individually.

Moreover, she did so at the young age of 12, so she could ensure that her grandfather would get a chance to see it.

“He was extremely happy,” she said. “He was crying, and he was one of the first people to stand up and clap for me. He was really proud of me and he gave a speech (afterward) — and he doesn't normally do that kind of thing. For him, he said it was one of the happiest moments in his life.”

The Jathiswara School of Dance and Music held its sixth annual recital at the India Cultural & Educational Center on Saturday. The recital, which showcased about 25 adolescent female dancers, presented the audience with a program of traditional Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance form.

Bharatanatyam is a traditional temple dance that has existed for centuries in its current form but can be traced back to ancient times, according to Alladi, the director of the school.

The dances and the music that they accompany are spiritual and devotional in nature, with most of the pieces offering prayers to, or telling a story about one of, the Hindu Gods, said Alladi.

“Children also learn our religion through this — meaning the mythology (and) the stories — rather than going through a textual thing,” she said. “I think this is one way of telling them what this is about. And they find it so interesting.”

The dances are set to Carnatic music, which is the classical music of South India, said Alladi, and they feature three aspects: Nritta, which is a pure dance form that doesn't convey any meaning; Nritya, which conveys meaning through facial expressions, called abhinaya, and hand gestures, referred to as mudras; and Natya, which is a dance that makes use of drama through spoken word in addition to dance.

“A lot of the time with Nritta, you are always smiling, energetic and happy,” said Rhea. “But with the Nritya, it's more like sometimes you have to be sad and angry — you just show a lot of emotion (through) expression (and) a lot more attention is called to your hand gestures. It's not as fast, but it's just as energetic.”

The program consisted of nine dances that showcased the hard work that students at different levels have put into preparation for the event.

The program started with the most basic levels of pure dance and, with each dance, progressed to showcase the more advanced levels of all three dance forms.

Dancers took to the stage dressed in Bharatanatyam costumes, multi-colored outfits made up of loose, baggy pants and a matching top. The pants featured two opening fans, a small one over the pelvic area and a larger one over the thighs and knees. As the dancers bent their knees or moved their legs apart, these fans would spread open, creating an impressive visual effect.

In addition, most dancers wore temple jewelry — a mixture of floral decorations and gold clips and pins that were often adorned with red gemstones — in their hair. Such jewelry could often be seen covering the top of a dancer's forehead and the length of their ponytails.

As the dancers took to the stage, they would perform the iconic gestures and expressions some may associate with Indian dance. They extended their head left and right to the music's beat using only their necks and would extend their arms wide while making grand hand gestures that told a story. All the while, they stomped and kicked out their feet, which was accompanied by the chimes of their salangai, or ankle bells.

“It may look easy, but it's not easy,” remarked Balachandar. “Believe me, I've tried it.”

Rhea, who was one of the last dancers, performed “Thillana,” which is considered the most beautiful piece of pure dance, according to Balachandar.

About 200 people attended the recital, many of whom were not of Indian descent.

Matt Swanson attended the event with his two daughters, Sophia and Aiden, ages 8 and 10, who have been involved in various forms of dancing.

“It's just something different than what these girls have done in the past, and what they've seen,” he said. “And it's neat to reach out and look at different cultures, and what they're doing, because you can get stuck in your own box.”

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