'Traditions' Engage Modern Audiences

SAN FRANCISCO, October 1, 2010 - Friday night was the opening of Traditions Engaged, a six-day festival in San Francisco and Los Angeles showcasing classical Indian dance and music. Members of the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak Dance entertained the audience with lavishly decorated dance routines, accompanied by a musical ensemble of vocals, violin, flute, and percussion instruments.

The evening offered audiences a chance to learn more about classical Indian performance—and, for those more versed in the traditions of Indian dance—a chance to see renowned performers display their talent.

Two members of the dance companies later surprised the audience by announcing that Mayor Gavin Newsom had named October 1 "Indian Classical Dance and Music Day" in San Francisco. Chhandam founder and director Pandit Chitresh Das then spoke to the audience about the festival and the mayor's proclamation. What delighted him most, he explained, was the inclusiveness of the proclamation; it was not just "Southern Indian Dance Day" or "Indian Music Day," but a day to honor the diverse traditions of the entire country. 

The announcement and dance performances were preceeded by elaborate narratives. Das explained the importance of these narrative-based performances in his speech.

"Tradition is now more relevant than ever," he said. "The classical art forms of India hold ancient knowledge and messages that are universal and timeless. The Ramayana's villain, the demon King Ravan, warns us about the dangers of greed, arrogance and lust. The disrobing of the Mahabharata’s heroine, Draupadi, reminds us how we can lose sight of basic human dignity during difficult times. The concept of ardhanariswara, so central to Indian classical dance, shows us the way to the masculine and the feminine within each of us."

Similar performances continued throughout the weekend at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts before the festival continued in Los Angeles the following weekend.

Reported by Meredith Godwin, Asia Society Northern California