BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, December 7, 2017: Inspired, indigenous and intricate, Antar-Yatra, the AIM for Seva fundraiser, blended an array of ingredients including three popular dance forms, songs in six different languages, various voices of the narrator, puppetry and pinnal kollatam, serving a sumptuous spread of artistic extravaganza simmered to perfection at Lassiter High School on November 5.
Presented by renowned Odishi dancer and founder, Odissi Vision and Movement Centre, Kolkata, Sharmila Biswas, Antar –Yatra merged Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odishi dance forms to offer a glimpse into the inner world of the women dancers of India. Drawing inspiration from mythological and historical references to dancers, inundated with abstractions, layered by subtle nuances, the production was elaborately colorful and evocatively dramatic in presentation.
On a 12-city tour across the US, the show in Atlanta raised sponsorship for 120 students in Free Student Homes (FSHs) in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat adopted by AIM for Seva Georgia.
“I can proudly say that since AIM for Seva Georgia Chapter was established in 2012, we are now recognized for bringing high quality cultural programs to Atlanta, and the community loves the cause it represents,” said Eashwar Money, lead coordinator for AIM for Seva, GA. “I would like to thank Georgia’s donors for their support in the last six years. I’m pleased to say that AIM for SEVA (Seva in Sanskrit means Selfless Service) is truly turning out to be a “Movement” in Georgia,” he added.
Nithya Narasimhan welcomed the audience, followed by a flawless rendition of ‘Mahaganapathim’ by Nityashree and Sreevarshini. In his address, Money shared the success stories of two tribal boys at the FSHs who completed their education and went on to donate the first check they earned back to AIM for Seva. He mentioned a Bay Area couple that made a generous donation of $0.5MM to the organization.
“I learnt from them that you don’t need to be rich to be happy. Makes me appreciate what I have,” said Sadhana Venkataraman, a high school student who visited the FSHs in India through the Global Youth Leadership Program.
Sreelakshmy Govardhnan in Kuchipudi, Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya in Bharatanatyam, and Sashwati Garai Ghosh in Odissi, each representing their dance forms in the opening act presented a well coordinated piece, with the act coming together like rivers from various directions that merge to blend into a common ocean, flowing together individually yet joining together a narrate a common story.
Then appeared the mythological Apsaras, adorned with all that is beautiful, rising with the churning of the ocean to tribal beats, the coromandel inspiration apparent. The stage glimmered, steeped in deep blue lighting as the celestial dancers embraced and retreated quietly and gently. The audience watched in awe, as did the narrator as she whispered, “I believed in the apsara. We did. She did. It flowered, filled my heart…”
Each of the dancers embarked on their individual journey to engage in the intimate dialogue with the abstract drawing inspiration from their surrounding.
Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya, in her piece A Sacred Space, was the historical devadasi, known to have a lifelong bond with the Divine, tied with God. She built her world drawing inspiration from the sound of temple bells dancing to tunes of sitar and vocals. Which note of the temple bells resonates with the abstract she tries to connect, she wondered. And her discovery aroused her spirit. Sharmila, the narrator had a question for her – ‘When you have the lord opening his arms for you, would you still go after this ordinary man? When the magical world awaits you, would you still go after the mundane?’ The dancer agonized over her choice as the milieu turned mystical with the harmonious ‘Hare Murare’.
Surrounded by the mundane, Sreelakshmy Govardhnan in The First Light explored the magic of twilight, sandhi samaya – the time of day when day meets night. Colors fade and colors hide. The fleeting glimpses of the divine are momentary and she is disheartened. The sound of a soft rhythm, however, springs life in her, as the stage is splashed with vibrant orange and pink and she danced her heart away to realms of yellow between the drapes in a breathtakingly beautiful visual.
Sashwati Garai Ghosh in her piece Explaining The Unexplainable, draws her inspiration from the imagery of Rama pursuing the golden deer of Maya, Mareecha. Symbolic perhaps of the eternal quest of man to attain the unattainable or in the context of a dancer, the pursuit symbolizing the journey of the artist discovering herself, and bringing her close to what she believes is most sacred, her art.
Culminating with a realization of the dancers that the journey towards art or the Divine is never-ending, Antar-Yatra concluded with a reflective act, Shringaar, as Sharmila, almost ascetic, placed puppets of Krishna over the screens to the soulful rendition of ‘Sundari kahe mohe sambhasi na jasi’. So, the dancer embellished her Divine in her own way, within the world she created, reddening his feet with the color of the dawn, painting his lips with her own bittersweet life, darkening his eyes and with the Maya born from her dreams. It is her world, she plays with her Divine as her heart desires, in the unending spiritual journey within.
Partly abstract and delightfully dramatic, the individual journeys of dancers in Antar-Yatra, enriched with luscious lighting by Ramesh Jena, enhanced by dreamy props of bamboo and jute drapes by Nandagopal Jana, and elevated by exceptional music by Srijan Chatterjee was profound, prolific and a pleasurable piece of artistry.
“Antar Yatra would not have been possible without the financial and moral support of Sheela Balaji and AIM for SEVA. It is indeed beautiful to feel how concern for education and art can combine, to create something worthwhile. It makes for a better future,” Sharmila Biswas said, in her closing remarks.
“AIM (All India Movement) for Seva was started by Swami Dayananda Saraswati in 2001 and it’s Mission is educating rural and tribal children in India by the establishment of free student homes. AIM for SEVA has 97 FSHs across 16 states in India.