Jul 242012
 

Follow it. Be swayed by the Spirit of Compassion.

Mahee Aziz, a Sydney, Australian, who comes originally from Bangladesh, is at the moment globetrotting and bringing to the charmed eyes of mesmerized audiences the potent exoticism of three traditional and canonical, Subcontinental Indian dance forms: the Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, and the North Indian style of Kathak.

And it is our City’s great good fortune that he is coming to Louisville.

Do, on that occasion, let this Pied Piper lead your heart away; and in the compassionate spirit for which deep and spiritual India is famous, turn out in support of the various charities and causes with which Aziz has involved himself: victims of AIDS, underprivileged children, and widows.

Aziz will be our revving up our cultural scene at a planned performance at Shine Wellness Studios on Saturday, July 28, at 7pm, as a second US stop following his scheduled performance at a medical conference in Washington, DC. At his own personal expense he has chosen Louisville as the venue for a benefit show he is putting on to raise money for the Bangladesh charity ‘Change the Lives,’ which is dedicated to helping underprivileged children in Bangladesh.

Let’s not let him make the pilgrimage to our Kentucky land without the welcome and support both his art and this cause deserve. Let’s not disappoint his anticipation of open hands and hearts, and properly wowed eyes and ears, among all us Louisville residents he has come to enchant. For gosh sakes, let’s not send him away empty-handed!

Even more in Bangladesh than in India, where the caste system remains prevalent, the cause of underprivileged children seems to resonate with special urgency among the more elite and middle-classes. Most professional and successful from Bangladesh know personally or are even related to someone who lives amid a level of poverty that makes our own homegrown variety look lavish by comparison. They seem unable to turn away from what they cannot help but see; and I just feel sure Louisvillians will not turn a blind eye to this ambassador of charity, either, when he comes bringing to our own attention his message of human need.

A lot of people in Louisville still may not suspect the size and strength of the transplanted Indian culture that flourishes here in our own community. I’m not sure whether there’s a Kuchipudi instructor in Louisville yet or not – but one can find out on August 18! – because that is India Day at the Belvedere – an event which will be sponsored by ICF (the India Community Foundation) and that promises to be something special.

For sure there will be displayed to the rapt gaze an evocative sampling of the wealth and variety of the timeless magic of Indian dance. My own impression is that the opportunities to see and learn (about) Subcontinental dance forms here in Louisville are equally rich and vibrant as what is being done by our justly-celebrated local dancers who engage in the teaching and performance of Flamenco and Middle Eastern bellydance. Come see what you think.

The Subcontinental dance forms that are currently on the menu in Louisville, complete with instructors, such that anyone can try their hand (and sinuously willowy arms and torsos) at these most magical and mysterious of artistic traditions, are: (and please to imagine in your mind’s ear at this point that light, bonking-sounding, Indian tympanum drumbeat, instead of a Western drum-roll) — Bharatanatyam; Kathak; and of course the infectiously exuberant, contemporary ‘Bollywood’ style.

Since the Kuchipudi tradition is the least-represented here in LV so far, Aziz’ upcoming visit gives us all a chance to catch it live, on the wing. This South Indian dance, from the State of Andhra Pradesh, is the Subcontinental dance form that perhaps a lot of people most think of when they think of Indian dance.

Bharatanatyam, from Tamil Nadu, which is the most likely traditional form of Indian dance, is not dissimilar — the main difference between Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi being that the former has more sculptured and dramatic poses; while Kuchipudi employs more rounded ones, especially with regard to the legs. The Kuchipudi tradition is known for incorporating dancing with, and on, a metal plate called a Tarangam.

Bharatanatyam dancers can be both female or male, resplendent in multi-colored garb and ornamental facial jewelry, executing dance movement that is demarcated by lots of dramatic pauses. It is also this form that is so marked by those characteristic head, neck , and eye movements – those ‘slidey’ gestures they do from the neck up, that seemingly ‘leave their bodies behind,’ in tandem with those signature snaky, waving arms – surely everyone’s idea of the world’s most exotic form of dance.

In terms of the dances’ cultural subtext of associated meaning, Kuchipudi may have more religious connotations with connections to the earth & God, while Bharatanatyam might be more about expressing the inner fire within the dancer’s body.

But speaking of fiery inner expressiveness – love that Bollywood!, which is of course that most exuberant, contemporary , and fully cosmopolitan expression of modern India in dance. We’ve all (I hope) seen it performed in movies and on TV – where you often see it being done in line-dances, or by large groups of dancers; far and away the most nontraditional Indian dance form, it gets people (whole crowds of dancers) self-expressively ‘jumping,’ in masses of seductively graceful, synchronization — seemingly an urban phenomenon (after all, India is a hugely populous place) – and just that much reminiscent of those Hollywood movie extravaganza dance-productions from about the 1930s.

It is (or seems to me, at least) the most seamless adaptation of ancient cultural modes into up-to-the-minute, international modernity that one could have imagined.

As for Kathak tradition, it’s a real border-hopper: Persian-influenced, it may in turn have had an influence on Flamenco, via Gypsies from Rajastan.

But let’s be a bit more thorough about this: there are eight classical dances in India, of which Bharatanatyam is the oldest. (So old, in fact, I find I can’t dig up any definite date of origin, so far does it go back). It’s agreed, though, that at its center is that expression of the fire element. (And of course the most ancient Indian religious texts center on Vedic Fire Sacrifice.) Kuchipudi, a relative youngster, was only (‘only’) founded in the 7th c. AD, by Brahmins – and can be traced to the village by that name, in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi dance was originally male-only – and that for the longest time – but somewhere along the line our Subcontinental sisters successfully infiltrated and are now possibly in the majority. There is even a ‘gender-bending’ form of Kuchipudi, in which the men execute the dance’s characteristically feminine forms, and vice versa. Kuchipudi has traditionally been used as an individual way to express oneself spiritually; or it can be used theatrically, to tell a story.

And, there is ‘country,’ rural, as opposed to a ‘city’ form of Kuchipudi. The rural: rawer, more primal-looking; the classical (citified) version: cleaner – gentler, more refined. (Sort of the same as if you were to compare the banjo in its ‘city’ and ‘country’ forms, as those were represented in early American musical tradition – if that is not too awful a thing to do – one being Tin Pan Alley, and the other, Dock Boggs). I saw a link to the country version of Kuchipudi in which the male dancer was wearing a mask-cum-head-covering kind-of-a-deal – and out of an adjunct to the whole thing – streamed water. And, in a depiction I saw of the classical version, there was a male dancer dressed as half-man, half-woman: moustachioed on one side of his face; made up with make-up on the other.

And – lest we think that Bollywood style is the only one that puts armies of dancers into the field – there was a world’s record set on December 23, 2010, for the largest number of Kuchipudi dancers ever to perform at the same time: 2,800, at a stadium in Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh capital.

The Indian style of music that accompanies these Indian dances in all their forms is uniformly what is termed ‘Carnatic’ (or, simply, Indian) music.

All those people, virtually uncountable numbers, who’ve moved to it and danced to it, through so many centuries.

Follow its drumbeat, and follow your heart. And mark your calendar for July 28th.


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