The legend of the mighty Ganges River will come to life through music and dance when the South Asia Cultural Association presents “Ardha Nareeshwara” on Sept. 28 at Bing Crosby Theater.
This classical Indian dance drama featuring a live orchestra will be performed by members of the Kuchipudi Dance Art Academy from Chennai, India.
“We brought them to Spokane in 1998,” said organizer Sreedharani Nandagopal. “We had a huge attendance the last time this academy came, and they’ve wanted to return for many years.”
SACA’s mission is to educate residents of Spokane and outlying areas about the heritage and traditions of South Asia – specifically the Indian subcontinent. The small nonprofit has been bringing culturally diverse programs to the area for 30 years.
Venkat Vempati, director of the Kuchipudi Academy, said the troupe enjoyed a wonderful response from the Spokane audience when they were last here, and they are looking forward to their return.
“We are 12 cities into our 45-city tour,” he said during a recent phone interview.
His father, Vempati Chinna Satyam, is credited for preserving the classical Kuchipudi dance form. Kuchipudi, distinguished by its sensuousness and lyricism, had been neglected and virtually rejected because of its rustic overtones.
“My father established the academy in 1963 with just 10 or 12 students,” Vempati said. “We now have two branches with 240 students and are known worldwide. This is our ninth U.S. tour.”
Kuchipudi is known for quick footwork, dramatic characterization, expressive eye movements and spirited narrative. It combines the elements of speech, mime and pure dance and is one of seven classical Indian dance styles. The dancers tell stories from Indian history or mythology.
“Each story has a moral,” said Vempati. “We teach through music and dance.”
Vempati said “Ardha Nareeshwara” presents Shiva in his androgynous form, as half male and half female, and the dance drama shows that one gender is not more important than the other.
“The dancer performs as a man in the first half and as a woman in the second half,” said Vempati. “It illustrates that we are one and teaches how a husband should look at his wife and how a wife should look at her husband.”
In addition to more than a dozen dancers, the performance features three vocalists and a six-member orchestra that includes a veena (similar to a sitar), violin, flute and percussion.
Nandagopal noted a key difference between Eastern and Western musicals.
“The orchestra sits on the stage and isn’t hidden,” she said. “We are happy to be at the Bing. It’s a beautiful theater for a program like this.”
She said she appreciates the community-wide response and support. This year, SACA received grants from Innovia, Rotary 21 and Kim McCampbell Insurance to bring the program to Spokane.
“We are humbled and honored to bring the Kuchipudi Dance Academy to Spokane for the second time,” said Nandagopal. “Our hope, by bringing these artists to Spokane, is to present a divine, meditative and transcendental experience that has been passed down for generations.”
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