42nd Annual Performance by Dances of India in St. Louis
Dances of India, one of the oldest classical Indian dance companies in the US
ST. LOIUS, MO- Dances of India, one of the oldest classical Indian dance companies in the US, presented its 42nd annual performance in St. Louis on Nov. 15-17. Along with a lively selection of classical Indian dances—and an extraordinarily dynamic interpretation of a thillana performed by the local contemporary/hip-hop company The Ashleyliane Dance CO—the nonprofit arts organization, led by Artistic Director Asha Prem, offered an intriguing, indeed fascinating look at one of the most beloved and fundamental myths in Hinduism: the absolute love between Krishna and the gopika (milkmaid), Radha, in its original production The Secret Letters of Radha & Krishna.
The production is based on an inventive premise: what if Krishna wrote Radha letters, after he leaves his childhood village to go face his destiny? Through the series of imagined letters the company explores themes of love, loss, & longing as Radha gradually realizes her love is not returning to her.
In a comical scene, Radha and her best friend send their shadows to go find out whom Krishna has married. Their shadows arrive at the moment the great Sage Narada is asking Krishna’s second wife Satyabhama to offer him something worth Krishna’s weight and value—which culminate in the well-known tulabhara (‘weighing on the scales’) scene.
Through observing this episode Radha realizes she was never meant to be Krishna’s wife; indeed, she has always been above the material bonds which define so many marriages. Radha’s story ends with a last letter from Krishna in which he alludes to the primary messages of the Bhagavad-Gita: detachment, and devotion.
The production—written & narrated by Nartana Premachandra, Asha Prem’s daughter, and choreographed by Theckla Mehta, visual artist and co-director– was enchanting, artistically daring, and deeply spiritual at the same time. Indeed, such creative spins on classic myths is a hallmark of this venerable dance company.
In addition Patrick Suzeau, the graceful, technically precise Professor of Dance at Kansas University in Lawrence performed a whimsical, fluid portrait of a gandharva in a fusion of contemporary with Odissi. It was a beautiful addition to an entertaining and edifying evening.