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A Creative Confluence of Cultures

4/16/2009, Manisha Jain


Dance and music are universal and just like love and laughter, have no boundaries. They have the power to unite people, irrespective of caste, creed, or even nations.  Such was the celebration of the artistic confluence of two ancient lands, an ocean apart but akin in spirit against the backdrop of history. On a magical Sunday evening, the Triveni Ensemble took  the stage along with the Cape Cod African Dance and Drum Co. at Hellenic College in Brookline, MA, presenting an  inspiring and soul-stirring collaboration that left its audience entirely mesmerized. The scintillating, completely sold-out  show emphasized the fact that the true meaning of culture is not in excluding, but rather encompassing other cultures,  creating “Talamallika – a Garland of Rhythms” as the performance was aptly titled. 

Neena Gulati, an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, artistic director, and teacher from New Delhi, India, founded the  Triveni School of Dance, in Brookline, MA in 1971. Triveni is a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and performance of Indian Classical Dance, social awareness and the celebration of cultural diversity. The Triveni Ensemble consists of Neena Gulati and her senior students. The company performs professionally throughout New England, and  has  been lauded for its deep-rooted classicism as well for its aesthetic experimentation and willingness to cross boundaries.  On April 5, the beats of African drums mingled with mystic nuances of Indian classical dances in a sublime concert,  partially funded by Massachusetts Cultural Council, benefiting Agape International, a local charitable initiative.  Agape was  founded in 2003 by Lynne Guhman, and strives to love and care for the poorest of poor suffering as a result of the global  AIDS crisis.

From the opening invocation to the closing celebration, the event showcased a journey infused with subtlety and  perfection. The program featured more than twenty-five dancers presenting three distinct classical dance styles from  India,  Bharatanatayam, Kuchipudi, and Odissi. Although each style is unique and has its own distinctive features, their  tapestry is  woven by two common elements of pure dance (nritta) and expressive or interpretative dance (nritya). Nritta  is the  expression of rhythmic movement primarily through use of the hands and feet in specific poses. Nritya uses gestures and facial expressions to show the poetic or emotional meaning while combining rhythmic gaits and postures. Using these  classical dance forms as the starting point of exploration, the dancers created thought-provoking  choreography interspersed with intricate rhythmic patterns. The show not only lifted one’s spirits, but also stirred up the  rhythmic pulses  deep within one’s soul. 

At the commencement, a reverential piece “Ganpati Vandana” invoking the blessings of the elephant headed Lord  Ganesha, in Kuchipudi style, set the invocative tone for an auspicious beginning. The other dances in the Kuchipudi  repertoire included a “Jatiswaram” and a “Tillana.” They were characterized by fast rhythms and fluid movements,  creating  a unique blend of control and abandon, strength and delicacy. A “Shabdam” in Bharatanatayam style demanded the  nuanced skills of mime or abhinaya, interwoven with complex, cadenced footwork and hand gestures.  The “Battu” and  “Pallavi” in Odissi style were undoubtedly the epitome of fluid grace and possessed a lyrical quality that  was intensely  appealing. A highlight of the evening was a solo performance by “Neenaji” wherein she emoted and  danced to the  profound and philosophical poem “A Stream of Life” by Rabindranath Tagore. Neenaji possesses a  powerful command  of the stage. Along with her unquestionable command of technique, she has a delivery of intent that  is palpable. The power  of her abhinaya comes not just from her myriad facial expressions, but she also recruits the body  and its stances in  conveying emotions. It was not only a beautiful visual experience, but an inspired amalgamation of  poetry, philosophy, and  truth.

The piece-de-resistence of the evening was the finale “Talamallika,” a spectacular culmination and a unique blend of the complex rhythms of Indian Classical Dance, mellifluous vocals by Krithika Jeyaraman, and vibrant drumming by the  Cape  Cod Dance and Drum Company. The building crescendo to which three groups of dancers performed with plan,  each  group highlighting its own style with aplomb, created a stunning visual impact, transporting the audience to a surreal realm.  Lucky were those who immersed in the waves of such joy.

Triveni’s selfless effort of lending a helping hand to the underprivileged, combined with pure aesthetic delight, left many in the audience misty-eyed. A stunned silence ensued as Kim Ogden of Agape International presented an extremely moving  audio-visual footage depicting the crisis faced by AIDS orphans in India, and thanked Triveni for its noble  contribution toward this cause. One sincerely hopes that this garland of rhythms woven on the part of Triveni dancers  emanates a  fragrance that touches the lives of these children forever.

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