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Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose tackled the outcomes of climate change for their fall concert, titled “Jwala,” on Nov. 20, 2022 at Mexican Heritage Theater in San Jose.

Jwala, meaning flames, is an updated version of a show that originally premiered in 2011 and focused on Agni, the god of Fire, and Agni’s importance in Hindu mythology. 

Dancing with Fire

Artist Director Mythili Kumar’s inspiration for the new show came from the destruction caused by California wildfires as a result of climate change. “When California wildfires are going on in full swing, the headlines, media is all about it,” said Kumar, and “people tend to forget about it,” when it’s not in the headlines.

Music Composer and Lyricist Ragavan Manian created music specifically for the finale titled “California Wild Fire,” choreographed by Kumar with a script by Vijay M. Rajan. Manian voiced the fire, based on a poem he wrote, which gave Kumar the inspiration “to do stories about families and firefighters.”

The company also performed “Jwala Devi” which referenced the nine forms of Goddess Lalitha, and the Surya Kautvam titled “Homage to the Sun” which originally premiered in 2003.

A Work in Progress

A packed auditorium enjoyed three interpretative pieces on fire performed by Senior, Junior, and guest dancers.

Vaishali Ramachandran, the Administrative and Production Manager said that once the script was formed, a call for dancers went out for all Bay Area Bharatanatyam dancers to come in for an open audition. 

Long time Abhinaya Dance Company friend and collaborator Kamal Nair, who provided feedback on the show’s design was excited to see the representation of flames, animals and trees. “It brings back memories after 40 years of being backstage again,” she said.

The show is a work-in-progress, said Kumar, that just beginning give people a sense of the suffering that wildfires cause.

Junior Dance Company members stand on stage for lighting adjustments. Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Junior Dance Company dancer Aditya Romfh has eyeliner applied by his mother Anitra Romfh. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
A dancer’s costume jewelry including earrings, head ornaments, bangles and an ornamental belt sit in a dressing room. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Dancers receive blessings from their guru, Artistic Director Mythili Kumar. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Volunteer Sandhya Jayaraman works the information booth in the lobby. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Former Abhinaya Board Member Pushpa Sreeharsha has a self adhesive wrist band tied before entering the auditorium. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Artistic Director Mythili Kumar introduces a dance piece from backstage. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Junior Company Dancers perform the piece “Homage to the Sun.” Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Kassiyet A. (center) and dancers perform the piece “Jwala Devi.” Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Dancers stand against a backdrop of trees for the piece “California Wild Fire.” Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Dancers portray firefighters rescuing residents in the piece “California Wild Fire.” Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Aditi Ghosh and Ambhranee Yakkundi greet family and friends in the lobby. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Dancers greet family and friends in the lobby after their performance. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Sree Sripathy

Sree Sripathy joined India Currents as a photojournalist and CatchLight Local Fellow as part of CatchLight's California Local Visual Desk program in June 2022. Reach out with story ideas or comments at...