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Aparna's Dance Academy Celebrates Kathak Utsav

Aparna's Dance academy hosted its 5th annual show- Kathak Utsav 2011 at the Alliance Theater, at Woodruff Art center, on May 21, 2011. Kathak production- Mahishasur Mardini, Jugalbandi (a rhythmic interplay) between Kathak and Flamenco, and a number of Kathak, folks and filmi dance performances marked the occasion.

The centerpiece of the program, Mahishasur Mardini took the audience to the mythical roots of Indian culture. Beautifully narrated in Hindi and performed on Kathak, the performers from Aparna's Dance Academy told the story of Goddess Durga through dance. The story goes like this- Mahishasur, the Demon, through years of praying, received blessing from Lord Brahma, that no man or God can kill him which means he is invincible. But once gaining this power he started ravaging the whole world and killing people. And finally he wanted to uproot the Gods too.

To kill Mahishasur, Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh created Shakti, i.e. Supreme power. She is called Maha Durga. Devi Durga kills Mahishasur and therefore she is also called Mahishasur Mardini ( Destroyer of Mahishasur). Devi Durga creates another form, Devi Kali to Kill the demon, Raktabeej. 

Forty five performers presented this forty minute show. It is obvious that a lot attention to details and hard work has gone in making of this production. Beautiful music, background that gelled into the stage performance, light effects, beautiful costumes, and above all the Kathak performance by Aparna's students culminated in a performance that left the audience spellbound. In their makeup, the mythical characters, Indra, Durga, Mahishasur, Kali, demons and devtas came live on the stage. Aparna Sharma worked for over a month in India with musician and artists to capture her imagination in the narration and music.

In their Kathak-Flamenco jugalbandi, Aparna Sharma and Cara Wheeler showed an amalgamation of dance forms and their historical connection.

Kamal Mohanty, the host for the show explained the connection. Dance is an expression of human emotion in this beautiful art form. Music and dance know no boundaries. They originate, merge, and bring about new forms. Nearly 700 years ago (in 1447), gypsies migrated from Punjab to Spain. So the inevitable happened. Over the years, the gypsies combined the Kathak, they brought with them from India with the culture and music that the Moors had brought to Spain even earlier. As a result, a new Gypsy dance was born, Flamenco.

In this jugalbandi, first each performed their own dance form, and then Aparna performed on Flamenco while Cara performed on Kathak. The wonder of this historical connection was very clear in the steps and the rhythm of their performances, and had the capacity audience respond with gusto.

In her address to students and parents, Aparna reiterated that Kathak is a foundation that makes learning other dance forms very easy, including dance on Indian film music. Therefore, it provides a sound base for dance education. 

This year, like in the last three years, Kamal Mohanty hosted the show. The show started with Ganesh Vandana, with beautiful Ganesh poses bringing small Ganeshas live on the stage. One parent couldn't control her emotion when she said she had tears in her eyes watching her little daughter perform Ganesha. As show progressed, performances on selected Kathak pieces, and then folks and filmi music by same students demonstrated how these students have learned the art of Kathak and expanded their horizons in other dance forms. Several other combinations of Kathak, folk, and dance on Hindi film music followed, culminating in the finale, Mahishasur Mardini.

Kathak Utsav was a brilliant illustration of one of the oldest art forms of India that is not just alive, but vibrant and evolving with each generation.

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