By Sharon Simonson
Leap cultural divides without breaking a sweat at “Dances of Devotion” on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose.
Watch, hear, learn and feel the complexity and nuance of classical Indian and Cambodian dance in compare-and-contrast performances conceived as art — and a little bit more.
Santa Clara-based Sangam Arts, the show’s producer, aims to highlight common themes in the two South Asian countries’ traditional dance forms. The evening mixes originally choreographed work with an interlude during which Cambodian Charya Burt and Indian Lavanya Ananth will speak about the history and meaning behind their dress, body movements and hand gestures.
“We do an ‘artists dialogue.’ We discuss our dance histories, and we do dance demonstrations of our art forms, the similarities and differences, a few elements that we think are important,” Burt said. It is the first time she has engaged in such an on-stage exercise, intended to give an educational understanding of her craft as well as a visual display.
The word sangam in Sanskrit means confluence, the point at which two rivers join, said Usha Srinivasan, a co-founder of the two-year-old non-profit production company. The name signifies its mission to bring cultures and people together using dance as a medium of communication. Her productions reach beyond the eight forms of Indian classical dance and bring unexpected shows to performance venues such as Mexican folk dance to a Chinese performing arts center.
A native of Southern India’s Telangana state, Srinivasan came to the United States in 1990 to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Five years later, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend Stanford Business School. She pursued project management in the high-tech sector for nearly two decades before turning to consulting while raising two daughters. She came to South Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam as an adult after her daughter began taking instruction.
Despite Silicon Valley’s popular diversity where no racial or ethnic group maintains a majority any longer, the multiple ethnic groups largely adhere to their native cultural practices, she observes. Some groups, including Indians, further divide themselves along even narrower cultural lines. Sangam Arts seeks to soften those divisions.
“The whole model we have had of a majority that wields power and influence and the minorities played off that center, we don’t have that any more, and we need to have systems and organizations in place to make sure we exist harmoniously,” she says.
(Photos courtesy Sangam Arts)