Standing Ovation for TAPASYA at Ekal Vidyalaya’s Fundraiser
A dozen dancers performing for a charity fundraiser show. Sounds like an ordinary recital? Add in stage props, dazzling costumes, a portrayal of two characters with various dance forms and you have Tapasya, Pray for a Soul. Tapasya was a unique Bharatanatyam fusion dance fundraiser by Preeti Shah, held on Saturday, September 12, at Pace Academy to benefit the non-profit Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation. Proceeds from the sold-out show went to sponsor over 20 new schools that will be built in rural and tribal India.
Manhar Valand, Ekal’s Regional President, opened the show with a welcome address highlighting Ekal’s progress.
Archith Seshadri and Vandana Aggarwal became the voices of the dancers in the various pieces that were conceived and artistically choreographed with new-age flair by Preeti Shah.
Tapasya focused on prayer and penance. The production highlighted the balance of powers between Shiva and Shakti and explored how it takes a significant amount of energy and emotion to restore the balance if it is disturbed. Shah played the lead role with a cast that included her students Supriya Shridharan, Aditi Acharya, Meena Balasubramaniam, Jayashree Bandi, Nisha Bhat, Nivedita Krishnakumar, Meghna Mahadevan, Tanmayi Pai, Mayuri Patel, Shruti Ramachandran, Lavanya Ramakrishnan, and Kritika Subramanian, and a supporting cast including Aishwarya Duggirala, Shreya Desai, Shreya Nainwal, Divya Natarajan, Prisha Rajasekaran and Nethravalli Shah. An enthusiastic audience numbering over 575 watched the performance.
Supriya Shridharan portrayed Shiva, the Lord of Tandav or vigorous dance, while Preeti Shah portrayed Shakti, who symbolizes Lasyam, a graceful rhythmic form of dance. The ensemble revolved around the auspicious symbol Aum and how the two powers battle over which one is more superior.
The program started with Avatar or incarnations. The dancers ended with a formation of a chariot with horses depicting the Gitopadesh, which took the audience by surprise and primed them for more unexpected twists in the age-old story of Shiva. Preeti Shah’s solo, Saleelam, swept the audience off their feet as she portrayed a girl playing with a ball with intricate footwork and facial expressions that conveyed a full range of emotions.
A patriotic piece, Unity in Diversity, showed the eight major dance styles in India and their differences but brought the art of dance together through the unifying beats of rhythm. The dancers held up a large flag of India, with younger children seated on stage learning the alphabet from a teacher. This piece was set to the song Bhajey Sargam and its nostalgic appeal reinforced the reasons for giving back to underprivileged children in India.
The second half of the show featured a fight sequence between Shiva and Shakti. Shah’s fast-paced footwork and her expressions of rage and anger were well balanced by Supriya Shridharan’s emotions of tranquility and serenity in the depiction of Shiva.
The highlight of the evening was the title piece, Tapasya, where Shah and four of her students (Aditi Acharya, Meena Balasubramaniam, Shruti Ramachandran and Kritika Subramanian) embodied everything Indian, traditional, colorful and spiritual. Tandav and Bho Shambo brought out the devotional aspects of the show.
The dancers ended by forming an Aum marking the reconciliation of Shiva and Shakti. Each performer was recognized on stage, and the show ended with a standing ovation for Preeti Shah, the director, and the entire Tapasya team.
Ravi Dharanendra, a member of the appreciative audience, commented, “Seldom have I seen such a beautiful and flawless performance. The show was fantastic, appropriate with a very melodious blend of music and choreography.”
Ekal Vidyalaya's Atlanta chapter president, Shiv Aggarwal, thanked the audience, volunteers, and performers for all their dedication in supporting the foundation, which was started in the United States in 1999. Aggarwal said, “This is the best show Ekal has staged in Atlanta.” The non-profit organization now has more than 26,000 schools educating nearly one million students throughout India.
“I wanted the audience to be entertained while following the thematic production. I did not want the show to become too cerebral, one where sheets of explanation are required. (I was aiming for) a simple, easy-to-follow theme of Tapasya while telling the story of a man and woman through an avant-garde form of dance,” remarked Preeti Shah.
She was recognized at the National Ekal meeting in Washington, D.C., on September 19 as an exemplary volunteer.
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