Traditions Engaged Event Recap
Two members of the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak Dance appeared on stage at the Yeurba Buena Center for the Arts on Friday evening with a big announcement. The duo proceeded to read a proclamation from the office of Mayor Gavin Newsom, naming October 1st Indian Classical Dance and Music Day in San Francisco. The room erupted in applause and Chhandam founder and director, Pandit Chitresh Das appeared on the stage. His hands met humbly in front of his chest and he made a slight bow of gratitude towards the audience. What delighted Pandit Chitresh Das, he said, 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.
Friday night was the opening of Traditions Engaged, the title of the six day festival in San Francisco and Los Angeles to showcase Classical Indian Dance and Music. For audience members with an untrained eye, it was a chance to delight in lavish Indian costume, jewelry, and expressive movements. Many of the Indian audience members came dressed in Saris, and likely more familiar with Indian classical dance, watched with a keen eye the renowned dancers animate the stage with their movements. The dancers were accompanied by a musical ensemble, including vocals, violin, flute, and percussion instruments. One dancer performed with bells around her ankles and her fast footwork mimicked the beat of the drum. The dance was also characterized by deliberate and expressive movements, twirling of the wrists, bobbing of the head and emotion that extended all the way through the fingertips. The performances followed elaborate narratives.
Pandit Chitresh Das explains the importance of these narrative-based-performances in his opening letter, “Tradition is now more relevant than ever. 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.”
The evening offered 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.