Mindful Metropolis October 2011 : Page 30

art & soul The Flowering Tree Natya Dance Theatre’s new production tells a very modern story by way of a centuries old folktale by JessiCa Mason PHoTo: AMITAVA SARKAR N atya Dance Theatre’s new produc-tion tells a very modern story by way of a centuries old folktale. According to Hema Rajagopalan, the tra-ditional Indian dance Bharata Natyam is said to have been created by the gods because the scriptures were too long for people to read. Rajagopalan has taught this venerable form of dance for decades and has been practicing it nearly her entire life. In 1994, she founded the Natya Dance Theatre and her original adaptation of the Indian folk-tale, The Flowering Tree, will premiere at the Harris Theater in Chicago on October 8. Rajagopalan explains that although Bharata Natyam is “a classical form of dance with a vo-cabulary and grammar,” it’s also still evolving. Unlike in the West, where ballet is enjoyed by a relatively small group of people and prac-ticed by an even smaller group of people, in Southern India dance is a regular part of life. Which is not to say Natya’s dancers are amateurs. On the contrary, the dancers train intensively for an average of 10 to 15 years in order to master the intricate movements of the dance form before taking to the stage. Still, as Rajagopalan points out, they’re also ordi-nary people with lives and careers apart from, or perhaps intertwined with, their passion for dance. And though the company has per-formed at many prestigious events and venues around the world, its roots are humble, begin-ning in the 1970s. Today, the dancers in the company are like family to Rajagopalan who has been teaching most of them since they were five or six years old. Another distinguishing feature of Bharata Natyam is the emphasis the dance places on its relationship to the audience. Rather than being presented as solely the artist’s vision for the audience to digest and interpret, the objective of Bharata Natyam is for the dancers and the story to connect with the audience in such a way that they experience something called rasa, which Krithika Raja-gopalan, Hema’s daughter and co-choreog-rapher, defines as being “completely elevat-ed to a totally different plane of enjoyment … of absorbing the message that’s being ex-pressed.” To that end, facial expression is as important to the dance as the movement of the body and the performers are every bit as much actors as they dancers. The Flowering Tree was adapted by Ra-jagopalan from a translation by A.K. Ra-manujan of a 14th century Indian folktale. Rajagopalan felt that the tale’s message spoke to one of the central values of her art form; the idea that we are all connected to each other and to nature. The story concerns the eldest daughter of a poor family upon whom is bestowed the mixed blessing of being able to be turned into a beautiful flowering tree. Her magical ability captures the attention of a prince who soon wins her hand in marriage. However, the young woman’s gift is soon abused by those closest to her. The expressiveness of the performers makes the production emotionally acces-sible. The audience is able to feel the joy and excitement of the young newlyweds as the prince shows his bride around the palace. The dancing is sometimes boldly rhyth-mic and other times dainty and elegant. Likewise, the music, composed by Rajkumar Bharati, deftly incorporates both traditional Indian music and modern jazz. The story, like all fairy tales, has a sense of taking place in a time that never really was, but its message, that we need to take better care of each other and of the Earth, is very much relevant to the here and now. It is especially noteworthy that the people doing harm in the story are not portrayed as irredeemably evil, but merely as individuals who have taken things for granted or given in to their uglier impulses. For an art form of supposedly divine ori-gin, the message expressed through Bharata Natyam in The Flowering Tree is surprisingly down to earth. The Flowering Tree premieres October 8, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at 205 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago. For more information, visit natya.com. Jessica Mason is a Chicago-based freelance writer. 30 october 2011

The Flowering Tree

Jessica Mason

Natya Dance Theatre’s new production tells a very modern story by way of a centuries old folktale <br /> <br /> Natya Dance Theatre’s new production tells a very modern story by way of a centuries old folktale. <br /> <br /> According to Hema Rajagopalan, the traditional Indian dance Bharata Natyam is said to have been created by the gods because the scriptures were too long for people to read.<br /> <br /> Rajagopalan has taught this venerable form of dance for decades and has been practicing it nearly her entire life. In 1994, she founded the Natya Dance Theatre and her original adaptation of the Indian folktale, The Flowering Tree, will premiere at the Harris Theater in Chicago on October 8.<br /> <br /> Rajagopalan explains that although Bharata Natyam is "a classical form of dance with a vocabulary and grammar," it's also still evolving. Unlike in the West, where ballet is enjoyed by a relatively small group of people and practiced by an even smaller group of people, in Southern India dance is a regular part of life.<br /> <br /> Which is not to say Natya's dancers are amateurs. On the contrary, the dancers train intensively for an average of 10 to 15 years in order to master the intricate movements of the dance form before taking to the stage. Still, as Rajagopalan points out, they're also ordinary people with lives and careers apart from, or perhaps intertwined with, their passion for dance. And though the company has performed at many prestigious events and venues around the world, its roots are humble, beginning in the 1970s. Today, the dancers in the company are like family to Rajagopalan who has been teaching most of them since they were five or six years old.<br /> <br /> Another distinguishing feature of Bharata Natyam is the emphasis the dance places on its relationship to the audience. Rather than being presented as solely the artist's vision for the audience to digest and interpret, the objective of Bharata Natyam is for the dancers and the story to connect with the audience in such a way that they experience something called rasa, which Krithika Rajagopalan, Hema's daughter and co-choreographer, defines as being "completely elevated to a totally different plane of enjoyment … of absorbing the message that's being expressed." To that end, facial expression is as important to the dance as the movement of the body and the performers are every bit as much actors as they dancers.<br /> <br /> The Flowering Tree was adapted by Rajagopalan from a translation by A.K. Ramanujan of a 14th century Indian folktale. Rajagopalan felt that the tale's message spoke to one of the central values of her art form; the idea that we are all connected to each other and to nature.<br /> <br /> The story concerns the eldest daughter of a poor family upon whom is bestowed the mixed blessing of being able to be turned into a beautiful flowering tree. Her magical ability captures the attention of a prince who soon wins her hand in marriage. However, art & soul Natya Dance Theatre's new production tells a very modern story by way of a centuries old folktale by JessiCa Mason the young woman's gift is soon abused by those closest to her.<br /> <br /> The expressiveness of the performers makes the production emotionally accessible. The audience is able to feel the joy and excitement of the young newlyweds as the prince shows his bride around the palace.<br /> <br /> The dancing is sometimes boldly rhythmic and other times dainty and elegant. Likewise, the music, composed by Rajkumar Bharati, deftly incorporates both traditional Indian music and modern jazz.<br /> <br /> The story, like all fairy tales, has a sense of taking place in a time that never really was, but its message, that we need to take better care of each other and of the Earth, is very much relevant to the here and now.<br /> <br /> It is especially noteworthy that the people doing harm in the story are not portrayed as irredeemably evil, but merely as individuals who have taken things for granted or given in to their uglier impulses.<br /> <br /> For an art form of supposedly divine origin, the message expressed through Bharata Natyam in The Flowering Tree is surprisingly down to earth.<br /> <br /> The Flowering Tree premieres October 8, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at 205 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago. For more information, visit natya.com.

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