Awe-inspiring theme encourages girls to pursue their dreams and feel truly empowered
By Geeta Goindi
Rockville, Maryland, November 15, 2014: The Bethesda-based Natananjali School of Dance held its eagerly-awaited annual show, ‘Devi’, dances in reverence to Hindu Goddesses, all in the intricate Bharatanatyam which is perhaps the most widely performed of Indian classical dance styles!
Over 200 discerning, dance afficionados packed the Kreeger Auditorium in the Jewish Community Center on a cool, crisp Saturday afternoon for late Fall.
On stage, some 45 talented students, in charmingly beautiful costumes, performed enthralling dances, set to devotional music compositions. The show was another feather in the cap of the School’s founder and director, Lakshmi Swaminathan, who choreographed the pieces with precision, together with renowned dancer N. Srikanth from India.
Bharatanatyam is a sacred dance insofar as it originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. It is widely believed that the dance is an embodiment of music in visual form, a ceremony, and an act of devotion. The performers are likened to ‘Apsaras’ (celestial dancers), their movements the epitome of grace and purity!
Regarding the theme, ‘Devi’ (Goddess) of Natananjali’s annual show, Lakshmi told us that she chose it “because the world is sustained by the divine feminine energy and quite incomplete without it. She is the divine Mother who is worshipped by thousands of names. She is one and she is also many in her various manifestations. As Goddess Saraswati, She grants us knowledge; as Goddess Lakshmi, She blesses us with prosperity; as Goddess Durga, she energizes us with strength and valor; and as Shakthi, She is power or empowerment”.
A proponent, active participant and advocate of women’s empowerment, Lakshmi said, “As a woman myself and having students who are all females, I thought it would be wonderful to present a show highlighting the glory of the female goddesses of Hinduism. All around the world today, we are seeing atrocities committed against women. But, without them, the world would cease to exist. Having been part of a show highlighting the power of female Hindu Goddesses, I hope that my students will recognize the power within them, find the strength to pursue their dreams, and feel truly empowered”!
At the Kreeger Auditorium, the artistes paid tribute to Hindu Goddesses in their various manifestations – Shakthi, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Andal, Ashtalakshmi, Meenakshi, Kamakshi, Kali, Parvati, Ganga and Tridevi. The show began on an auspicious note with an invocation, ‘Om Shakthi’, in which the dancers offered a prayer to Lord Ganesha and Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati.
‘Ashtalakshmi Stotram’ was a mesmerizing piece, brilliantly choreographed and complemented by heart-warming music, in which the artistes personified the eight manifestations of Goddess Lakshmi in all Her glory – Mother, grains, courage, elephants, progeny, victory, knowledge and wealth.
‘Jaya Durgay’ was another inspiring dance which captivated the audience. It was set to an enchanting bhajan in praise of Goddess Durga and the dancers excelled with their vibrant footwork and varying expressions of joy, ferocity, determination and indomitable courage.
In ‘Tunga Tarange Gange’, one could actually sing-along, the lyrics and music were so upbeat and uplifting! The song is an ode to the river Ganga and the dancers matched the virtuosity of the music with their rhythmic footwork patterns, hand gestures, facial expressions and emotions.
In the only solo performance, ‘Ranjanimala’, Medha Swaminathan was a delight to behold with her sculpturesque poses akin to a work of art! Her large, expressive eyes coupled with amazing agility, balance and steadiness, have placed her in the forefront of young Bharatanatyam performers in the Washington region.
The show ended with ‘Shakthi Tandavam’ predicated on the dynamic dance of Goddess Shakthi. The artistes – Medha, Abhiksha Desai and Aradhana Vyas – synchronized their footwork, body and hand movements with technical finesse in a performance that left the audience spellbound.
Lakshmi was elated by the response. She is passionate about dance, so dedicated to it that dance has become her life! She recalled being introduced to it when she was merely four years old by her mother who was denied the opportunity to learn this performing art.
“Is it something I would have chosen for myself”, she ponders, and then reflects, “I don’t know the answer to that because frankly, I do not remember a time when I was not dancing. At first, it was the beautiful costumes, jewelry and multiple stage performances that kept me motivated to continue my training. Later, when I realized that I was truly alive while dancing and, most importantly, teaching dance, it became a passion. Now it is my life! I can’t imagine my life without dance, especially teaching”.
For Lakshmi, performing has now taken a backseat although, by her own admission, she tremendously enjoys her work as a teaching artiste with the Young Audiences/Arts for Learning of Maryland.
“To be able to share my culture and heritage through dance fulfills me”, she told us. “Teaching dance satisfies my soul. So, today, dance for me is a spiritual experience”!