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Mythili Kumar, Abhinaya Dance Company

January 2013 came and went by in a whirl. The year began with remembering my late father by whose initiative and drive alone, my career in dance took off. It was therefore appropriate for the local Indian senior center where he had been active to invite me to give a lecture-demonstration in his honor. The talk on ‘Abhinaya-the art of expression in Indian dance’ thus began the year very heartwarmingly for both Abhinaya Dance Company and the senior center.

A series of student community performances associated with Indian festivals followed. One of them was Pongal, a harvest festival celebrated in South India. The word Pongal literally means ‘overflowing’, the idea being that the ‘abundance’ that begins the first month is sustained throughout the year. Likewise for our company, we have presented three community performances in January, a performance in an elementary school, begun the winter-spring semester of instruction, and started a hectic rehearsal schedule for our spring shows.

The talented Irish dancer, Michael Flatly is the ‘Lord of the Dance’ in his renowned touring repertoire. The ‘Lord of the Dance’ in India is however Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Trinity of gods in his aspect of Nataraja-the supreme dancer. The mystic cosmic dance of Nataraja is believed to be the cause of all creation and dissolution of the world. In India, from among several temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, the most celebrated one is the temple at Chidambaram where it is believed the Lord descended to perform his glorious dance at the behest of his devotees. Dancing sculptures abound in the walls of this temple, 108 dancing poses revealing the complexity of movements in the dance. The temple along with others in S.India also housed the ‘devadasis’ or servants of God who dedicated their art to the dancing god and who nurtured this classical dance of Bharatanatyam through the centuries. Early in the 20th century, temple dancing was banned by law. It was only in 1985 that the Chidambaram temple opened its doors to a national dance festival on one of the most auspicious days of worship of the dancing god.  As this day, Shivarathri is associated with fasting and prayers through the night, this festival also features dances throughout the night.  Having moved here in 1978, and never visiting India in the month of March when this festival occurs, I have never had the opportunity to participate in it. This year 2013 is however special as through a chance meeting with a key festival organizer, we have been given a prime slot in the festival which will be nationally televised in India.  So, two of us are off to dance in three temples culminating in a full-length performance in the city of Chennai. We return to present our successful fall production of ‘Gandhi’ in Fremont (3/31) and Aptos (4/6), thanks to the Knight Foundation.

A momentous and blessed beginning indeed!

The temple at Chidambaram

The temple at Chidambaram

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