Savitha Sastry’s “The Music Within” is a bharatanatyam performance that is about music and its transformative power when it touches the soul of a little girl … who cannot actually hear it.
It’s a story of Mallika, a deaf girl, whose life seems to revolve around looks of sympathy from some and jeering words by others, and her mother’s anxiety-ridden sobs for company. This, she does not comprehend. Inexplicably though, she intuits that her silent universe is empty without music. Eventually, she meets her guardian angel who gets her to understand that sounds are heard, while music is felt by the heart. The presentation brings to life this journey, from the quiet to the reverberation of music within.
“I knew that I would be touring (in Australia, Europe, and the U.S.) where audiences may not be knowledgeable about bharatanatyam,” says Sastry, artistic director of Sadhana Dance Academy in the Bay Area. “Music connects me to people and places, so I chose this theme. I wanted to convey the message of hopefulness and beauty. I believe that I’ve simplified the language of bharatanatyam without sacrificing its aesthetics.”
The presentation will commence with an opening by Sadhana’s students; followed by “The Music Within” explored in six acts. Scene 1 has Mallika telling us the story of her journey; the final scene has her absorbing the music. While the style adheres to the bharatanatyam lexicon, Sastry has incorporated body language (with help from Chennai’s Yogi and contemporary Renjith Babu) and American sign language into its staging, making it accessible to audiences uninitiated to dance. Theatrical narratives and few lyrical passages further enhance the experience. An excerpt from Scene 3 gives an inkling of the inspired thought behind the production: “Music is in the blossoming of a lotus flower … in the playfulness of the dolphins and in the elegance of the peacock. …Music is in every life form you see around you.”
Urging the audience along in this dance of discovery is the original score composed by Rajkumar Bharathi, the great grandson of Tamil legend Subramanya Bharathi, who embellished an essentially Karnatik rendition to sport flashes of Hindustani and folk.
The insistence on being accessible seems to have paid off. An elderly gentleman in Sydney, Australia was moved to tears by Mallika’s journey. Sastry adds, “And children came up to me all over and they would mimic something I did in the show.”