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Sense Beyond—a sensational dance drama

By Girish Modi
January 2012
Sense Beyond—a sensational dance drama Huge Yadav rests behind Renita Basu and other Kuchipudi dancers. (Photo: Girish Modi)

Kalaivani Dance & Music Academy (KDAMA), run by Padmaja Kelam and her son Siddharth, has schools located in 3 areas in the greater Atlanta area. On Friday November 11, 2011 they presented a dance drama called "Sense Beyond" at the prestigious Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta.

A visual feast representative of five most popular classical dance styles—Kathak, Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Mohiniattam, and Odissi—the unique performance was a production of famous dancer Madurai R. Muralidaran of Chennai. He not only composed the ballet, but also acted in the leading role of Yadav. He was accompanied by well known Kuchipudi dancer Uma Marali who played the role of Swapna Sundari. They both flew in for this presentation and rehearsed tirelessly with the performers.

Besides these two artists, local dance teachers and directors of leading dance schools, such as Kumud Savla, Samta Savla, students of Sasikala Penumarthi, Padmaja Kelam, Siddharth Kelam and senior students from their respective schools, participated to make this drama a huge success.

The story presented is simple but inspiring. Yadav is a servant in the household of Yamini (played by Kumud Savla), a Kathak teacher in Varanasi. In spite of his 250 pounds, he dreams of becoming an ace dancer one day. This distracts him from his daily chores, much to the displeasure of Yamini. Yamini's daughter-in-law (played by Samta Savla) agrees to teach Yadav, but this upsets Yamini, who accuses him of flirting. Yadav leaves. (Kathak dances and dandia-raas performed by Kumud Savla and her students)

In Orissa, Yadav by chance meets Narmada whose daughter is bitten by a snake. Yadav saves the child and she introduces him to an Odissi dance teacher. Yadav pleads with her to teach him dance. She is taken aback by Yadav's size but concedes to teach him. Mohindar, her relative, frames Yadav out of jealousy by placing diamond earrings of guru's daughter in his shirt pocket. Yadav, humiliated, leaves. (Odissi dances)

Fate brings Yadav to Kerala. While resting under a banyan tree, he is disturbed by dacoits stealing a precious statue of Krishna. He recovers the idol and returns it to its rightful owner, the descendant of a royal family. The prince rewards Yadav and invites him to witness the beautiful Mohiniattam dances. Soothed, he proceeds on his journey with renewed energy and confidence. (Mohiniattam dances performed by Bhavana Pradhyumna and Vasantha Chivukula of KDAMA)

Yadav's travel lands him in Andhra Pradesh. Still determined to become a dancer, he meets a beautiful Kuchipudi dancer named Swapna Sundari (played by Uma Murali). Swapna offers him shelter and agrees to teach him—but he dreams of Swapna's beauty and charm. One day he absent mindedly holds Swapna's wrist when she is teaching him the dance. Taken aback, Swapna slaps him and makes fun of his huge form. Hurt and ashamed, he leaves. (Kuchipudi dances presented by Uma Murali and students of Sasikala Penumarthy)

Yadav now goes to the famous Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamilnadu. He beseeches Lord Nataraja to show him the path to his salvation through dance. Following the sound of payal (anklets), he finds himself in a dance school. At first the guru (played by Padmaja Kelam) rejects Yadav for his size, but soon Yadav's steadfastness touches her and she begins training him. She advises him to lose weight, and he soon becomes one of the best students much to the displeasure of Nakul (played by Siddarth Kelam), the lead dancer in the academy. (Bharatnatyam dances performed by students of KDAMA)

Yadav is selected over Nakul to represent the dance academy in an international dance competition held by Kalaivani Dance Academy of Atlanta! Nakul and Yadav become the two finalists. Nakul decides to sabotage Yadav by arranging an attack on him a day before the grand finale—but the guru is wounded. Yadav admonishes Nakul, telling him that their guru is more important than the competition, and they should respect her.

Leading Kathak dancer Kumud Savla and Bharata Natyam & Kuchipudi exponent Uma Murali are selected as the judges, who then inaugurate the competition with their own performances. Tension builds. Yadav and Nakul dance, their feet stumping like thunder. They finish, their hearts pounding and bodies sweating—(it looked like a real-life dance competition and the audience were glued to their chairs!)

When the judges came on stage to announce the winner, there was pin-drop silence to hear the result. Yadav is declared the winner and Nakul is humbled. The moral of the story is that through hard work, dedication, commitment and focus, all can achieve their goals.

The wonderful and unique presentation must have inspired a lot of admirers and students to continue their contribution and commitment to various Indian classical dances.

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