Student Performance Features Bharatanatyam Dance

dance images

By Wesley Yiin, PC '16

Two Yale undergraduates showcased their talents and culture in a full-length performance of Bharatanatyam dance with live musical accompaniment.

The show, entitled Tiviya Tiviyam: Of Natures Human and Divine, took place on Friday, April 26, 2013, in the Crescent Theater under Ezra Stiles and Morse Colleges, which was packed to full capacity. Dancers Sisira Gorthala, MC ’13, and Sakshi Kumar, DC ’16, were the sole dancers performing in the show. Most pieces featured a single dancer—either Sakshi or Sisira—although the two joined together in certain numbers. They danced to live music performed by five trained Carnatic (or traditional South Indian) musicians, including Fugan Dineen, a percussionist from Massachusetts who traveled to New Haven just for this occasion.

Bharatanatyam dance originated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. As a classical form, Bharatanatyam offers depictions and reinterpretations of Hindu religious stories. Dancers begin training while they are young, learning the art for many years before making their official debut in a solo, two-hour performance known as an Arangetram. Both Sakshi and Sisira performed their Arangetram’s earlier in their teenage years. Within Bharatanatyam, there are many styles. Sisira specializes in Vazhuvoor style (an original form of Bharatanatyam), while Sakshi practices the more esoteric style of Balasaraswati.

Sisira, who organized most of the show herself, said that the most difficult part of the experience was coordinating live music with her dancing. “In this kind of collaboration,” she said, “[musical] improvisation isn’t allowed because it’s the dancer that leads the piece.” Thus, it was a great challenge for the entire performance group to keep “individuality, but still achieve synchrony in pieces that we [Sakshi and I] choreographed and danced together.”

The Yale Raga Society, an undergraduate organization devoted to increasing awareness of Indian artistic traditions, sponsored the show. The event was a successful demonstration of interactions between music and dance in South Indian culture. The dance forms differ greatly from western understanding of dance, as much more attention was given to subtle movements, like hand gestures, foot stomping, or flickering of the eyes. Thus, the performance was a great opportunity for the Yale community to embrace the diverse forms of dance that exist across different cultures.

As a graduating senior, Sisira spoke about the show as a good capstone for her Yale career. “I wanted to share my art in its pure form with my community before leaving,” she said.