Indian Heroine Drama Impresses

Marivic A. Mapa

Dancers in "Nari," an Indian drama choreographed by Rohini S. Rau-Murthy '07, portray heroines of Hindu mythology.

From its start, “Kalpanam” lived up to its “classical imaginations” subheading. Ravi Shankar’s sitar—a Hindustani traditional violin-like instrument—strummed in the background and combined beautifully with a fantastic red light splashed onto the stage, where Brandeis University students performed the opening “Tarana” dance.

Wearing pastel pinks and blues and hair twisted into flower-accented French braids, the girls danced in the style of Bharatnatyam—an Indian classical and geometrically graceful dance genre that dates back to 4000 B.C.—and skillfully embodied the spirit of a traditional Indian village

In “Ashto Sambur,” Jessica M. Marglin ’06 used her mudras—intricate hand gestures—to communicate vignettes about the mischievous but prominent Hindu god Shiva. Marglin’s intense leg squats and eye expressions—along with her half-tilt smile—perfectly conveyed the young conniving deity, showcasing Marglin’s skill both as a Bharatanatyam dancer and a dramatist.

But the dances did not only recognize days anciently bygone; old and new Indian dance elements merged for the fusion Kuchipudi-Bharatanatyam dance “Mandari Jataswaram,” performed by dancers from Mount Holyoke University, and “Bharata Natyam & Odissi” (performed by Gayatri S. Datar ’07 and T. Riya Sen ’07).

The outstanding stars of the night took the stage after intermission. The second act consisted entirely of a 45-minute Bharnatyam drama, “Nari,” which was choreographed by Co-Director Rohini S. Rau-Murthy ’08 and set against a music composition by Dwaraki Krishnswami that was specially commissioned for the show.

Despite a stereotype of Indian women as passive extensions of their men, women have won legendary victories over men. Spotlighting the heroism of women in India, the drama stayed true to the storytelling roots of traditional Bharatnatyam dance, depicting the Hindu myths of Chamundeshwari Devi, Saavitri, and Obavva. Although Rohini Nair ’08 prefaced each act admirably by reciting summaries of the drama’s parts, multiple complex names made the plotline from Hindu mythology hard to follow. Thus, audience understanding of the program might have benefited from written summaries.

In the first act of the show, the square surround seating at Lowell Lecture Hall hampered viewing since the dancers only faced one side; in contrast, during the second act’s use of the entire stage, the architecture increased the accessibility of the work, allowing audiences to experience all dimensions of the play.

In her story, Chamundeshwari Devi resoundingly defeats the strong and relentless demon Mahisha in a 10-day battle, during which Mahisha transforms from a man to a tiger to a bull. In the fast-paced opening scene, purple, orange, and magenta costumes ran across the stage. Eight dancers with plastered smiles, kajol-lined eyes, and waist-length hair extensions wore the full authentic Bharatnatyam preparations, all of which helped these talented dancers demonstrate their full range.

As Chamundeshwari, Prerna Martin ’09 ably performed an exhausting sequences of steps and poses that demonstrated why I need to head to the Mac more often. With an intense unblinking glare and deft swordplay, Mridula S. Raman ’06 was effectively scary as single-mindedly evil Mahisha.

In Saavitri’s story, a young woman follows the god of death, Yama, into the underworld and entreats him to resurrect her husband from the dead. Although they communicate solely through their hands and eyes, their mimed interactions are so vivid the mind imagines their mouths following the gestures of Rau-Murthy (as Saavitiri) and Suratha Elango ’06 (as Yama).

The final vignette was similarly impressive. In their portrayals of the Hindu mythological heroines, the all-female South Asian cast doubly confirmed the strength of Indian females and left little doubt about their legacies.

—Staff writer Vinita M. Alexander can be reached at valexand@fas.harvard.edu.