Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin
19/10/2012 - 20/10/2012
Performance at 7.30 daily.
Dancers: Swaroopa Unni with
Ann Mariya Veliyan Thomas, Ann Liya Mary Thomas
Vibha Veona Kumar
Impressive student dancers promise a great future
Review by Hannah Molloy 20th Oct 2012
Pushpanjali, meaning ‘offering of flowers to God’ is the first performance by the students of Dunedin’s new Natyaloka School of Indian Classical Dance and their teacher Swaroopa Unni. Held in the Fortune Theatre Studio, there was a full house of expectant parents and families as well as many of Dunedin’s dance educators and aficionados.
The two dance forms from South India immersed the audience in the stories and mythologies of the area. Mohiniyattam is ‘the dance of the beautiful woman’ and Swaroopa Unni personified this with her exquisite, precise dance, makeup and costumes. Papabhaya haranam, a dance in praise of Ganesha, the elephant headed god who removes obstacles, including fear and sadness was particularly evocative.
Bharathanatyam is ‘known for its gracefulness, footwork and beautiful postures’ and Swaroopa’s students were beautifully drilled in all of these. The footwork particularly was impressive – fast and in time.
With little previous experience of classical Indian dance, it struck me as being for the audience in some ways more than other dance styles. It was as though we were being read a fairytale and invited to participate in its telling with our own imaginations. The story is told in a fairly literal manner, with the expressive eye and mouth movements conveying exactly what’s going on. It was a celebration of the beauty of woman, in all her modes, from innocent child to mother to sultry temptress. It tells a story of the acceptance and joy of womanhood in a society where sometimes we struggle with that concept a little.
The eleven students, aged five to 17, were beautifully costumed in richly coloured and gold embroidered traditional dress and extravagant makeup, hair ornaments and jewellery. The little girls, aged about five to eight years old, knew their pieces and looked ecstatic to be on stage dressed as tiny princesses. There was no hint of nervousness, just fierce concentration while they were dancing and pleasure in showing their families what they have learnt and how gorgeous they look.
The two girls the next size up (aged 11) were still more confident again and charming. They smiled cheerfully and danced their little hearts out. The older girls knew their movements inside out and looked as though they were doing them for love rather than by rote. Their individual personalities were apparent in their interpretations of the dances without losing a moment of synchronicity.
The students’ demonstration of the individual movements of hand, neck, eye and head (Aangikam) and recitation of the Tamil names was impressive and drew several audible comments from the audience.
This was a perfect example of children’s ability to learn and retain complex sequences and to take joy and pride in their learning – if only they are given the opportunity. Something Swaroopa could teach those who set New Zealand school curricula perhaps!
The Natyaloka School of Indian Classical Dance is a gleaming addition to Dunedin dance education sector and I look forward to seeing the school and its audiences grow ever larger.
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