When Tchaikovsky composed the music for ‘The Nutcracker’ in the 1800’s, little would he have guessed that this fascinating story would become the subject of a Kuchipudi dance drama. The show titled, “Swapna Vijayam,” premiered in Atlanta on December 15th, 2008 at the Robert Fest Center for the Arts.
The event was organized by the Academy of Kuchipudi Dance to raise funds to support the South Asian Studies program of Emory University and to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the academy. Emory is rapidly becoming one of the premier institutions in the United States for the study of Indian languages, literatures and cultures.
Sasikala Penumarthi, a well-known distinguished disciple of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, carefully wove this western story that has become a Yuletide tradition into traditional Indian classical dance. Sasikala choreographed “Swapna Vijyam” with extraordinary faithfulness to Kuchipudi tradition.
The popular scenes from the play, like the party in the palace, the magician’s tricks, the dream of the King’s daughter Swapna, the encounter with the mouse king, the nutcracker who becomes a prince, and Swapna’s trip to the Sugar Plum land, came alive though the lyrics of Indraganti Srikanta Sarma, music of Subhashini Krishnamurthy, set designs by P.Venugopala Rao and Sivananda Nyayapathy, and the excellent choreography by Sasikala.
The impressive cast of forty dancers accompanied by a live orchestra performed to a sold out show and thrilled the audience with all the traditional elements of Kuchipudi style - the pravesa daruvus, the jathis and the folk dances. Fifty-three unique costumes were made in India for this drama.
The lead roles were played by Sasikala (Swapna the princess in the dream), Indira Sarma (young Swapna), Akhila Takkallapalli (Mayura, the Magician), Sridhar Potabattula (the mouse king), and Hima Bindu Challa (Nutcracker prince). Supporting roles by Sesha Lakkakula (King), Hema Shilpa Uppala (Queen) and Abhinay Penumarthi (Prince Abhinay) were impressive as well.
The dance of the Magician’s dolls by Reneta Basu, Nitya Nair, and Ratika Gunturi stole the hearts of the audience. The finest expression of sringara rasa came to light in the dance by Sasikala and Hima Bindu as they were about to enter the Sugar Plum Land.
The audience responded to this show with their thunderous applause. One of them, Myrna B. Lubin, Associate Director of Young Audiences at the Woodruff Arts Center, said she was “captivated” by this version of the Nutcracker. “The costumes were beautiful and, while I don’t know much about your art form, your performers all seemed very professional. I have to say I gained a new appreciation for the scope and complexity of the choreographer’s work,” she added. The event will remain in the minds of the viewers truly as a dream to be recalled again and again.
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