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Dancing the Play of a Deity – Kuchipudi Recital at Emory

March 2007
Dancing the Play of a Deity – Kuchipudi Recital at Emory

Emory University has showcased a selection of 123 Indian paintings for its exhibition, "Domains of Wonder", at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. In conjunction with the exhibit, Emory has held educational programs about India throughout the past few weeks. On March 15th, Atlanta's own respected Kuchipudi dancer, Sasikala Penumarthi, graced the stage of the museum's reception hall to present three stages in the life of Lord Krishna, culminating the event with the famed "bronze plate" dance in the Sri Krishna Pareejatam piece.

Educated in Kuchipudi by one of the forerunners of Kuchipudi, Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam, Sasikala Penumarthi now teaches and performs Kuchipudi with her Academy of Kuchipudi Dance in Atlanta and around the world. As a dance affiliate at Emory, she regularly performs lecture-demonstrations about Kuchipudi and about Indian and Hindu culture. She often works with Dr. Joyce Flueckiger, the Associate Professor at Emory's Department of Religion and the Master of Ceremonies at the Krishna Leela dance performance.

The evening began with the piece "Krishna Nee Begane Bharo" about Sri Krishna's childhood choreographed by Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam in ragam Yama Kalyani and talam Misrachappu. The dance recounted the love of Yashoda, Krishna's surrogate mother, for him and her ultimate realization and respect of his divinity. With great care, Yashoda tends for her son and protects him from the stifling love of the other women in the village. One day, upon finding him innocuously eating mud, she rushes toward him, fearfully demanding him to spit out the substance in his mouth. After many protestations, Krishna finally opens his mouth, and Yashoda stares at her son in awe, having seen the entire universe within his mouth. She dances in ecstasy over the discovery of her son's divinity. Sasikala Penumarthi's representation of the toddler Krishna and his protective mother were extremely realistic; her expressions changed seamlessly from those of Yashoda to those of her son Krishna.

In the second dance the Ashtapadi, four of the eight verses were performed for a composition by Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam in ragam Malika in Adi talam. This dance marks the next stage of Krishna's life after his childhood—his courtship with his lover Radha. In this piece, Krishna enchants Radha, and she suffers when she is separated from him. The separation makes her sorrowful, and jealousy overcomes her when she sees her lover frolicking with the other gopikas (village women). However, remembrance of Krishna's mesmerizing flute playing and his divine beauty soothe her worries. She imagines herself caring for Krishna and serving him, but always she finds herself alone. Sasikala Penumarthi depicted Radha's pining for her lover and her anguish at not finding him with sensitivity and ease.

In the third and last piece the Sri Krishna Pareejatam, Sasikala Penumarthi, as Rukmini, was joined by a senior student Amulia Nagaroor, as Krishna, in portraying the relationship between Krishna and his divine consort Rukmini in the Tarangam ("brass plate dance"). The wily Naradha plays havoc with the hearts of Krishna's two wives, Rukmini and Satyabhama. Sasikala Penumarthi and Amulia Nagaroor presented a perfect juxtaposition of jathis (fast rhythmic pattern of movements) and realistic emotional expressions. The Tarangam provided a brief but beautifully performed example of one of Kuchipudi's most famous dance.

Krishna Leela: Dancing the Play of a Deity provided an ideal complement to the Carlos Museum's "Domains of Wonder" exhibit. Lit with dimmed, chandelier lights and accompanied by flawless music, the venue showcased Sasikala Penumarthi's skill and Amulia Nagaroor's talent at their best.. The audience appreciated the display of the life of Lord Krishna through the stylings of traditional Kuchipudi.

~ Swetha Krishnakumar

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