Arpana Dance Company will present “Ganga … life as a river,” an innovative production combining traditional and contemporary Indian dance, as part of the South Coast Repertory’s Studio Series. In the company’s latest production, one of more than 15 full-length productions to its credit, artistic director Ramya Harishankar, sought to “step out of the box completely and challenge (herself) physically, mentally and spiritually” in exploring the idea of the River Ganga as a metaphor for women’s lives.


The opening dances of the program will be performed in the traditional bharatanatyam artform. Dancers, who will be in traditional costume, will be accompanied by a four-piece musical ensemble. Originating in Tamil Nadu, bharatanatyam celebrates the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body.

Expanding upon the bharatanatyam repertoire, the second half of the program is devoted to a post-modern interpretation of Ganga.

arishankar explains, “I knew I did not want to go down the beaten path of interpreting the stories, myths and lyrics about Ganga …. This was an interesting and nontraditional path.” The number is performed by “dancers in contemporary costumes performing vignettes reminiscent of a river traveling from a young, bubbling brook to the deep, calm waters uniting with the sea,” says Harishankar.

For many Indians and Hindus, the Ganga is not just a river but a goddess and mother, a tradition and a culture. The River Ganga represents eternal life and millions flock to her banks, bathing for spiritual purification and scattering the ashes of their loved ones into her waters as the ancestors of King Bhagiratha did in the Ramayana, to ensure their souls reach Nirvana.

Harishankar honors Ganga’s importance to Indian culture through her choreography and parallels the course of the river to the different lives of women who make up Indian society and culture: “Young self-absorbed women adorning themselves, laundry women who live and work by the Ganga, and widows who pass the bodies of the dead floating on the river. The various stages of women’s lives are thus juxtaposed through the symbolic image of river, water, and life.”

The Ganga is indeed a lifeline to many, providing a perennial source of irrigation for crops such as rice, lentils, and wheat and is fundamental to the agricultural economies of India and Bangladesh. Ganga’s sustenance of life inspired Harishankar in her choreography along with the efforts of Indian organisations to rejuvenate the river and lobby for funds to address its dangerously high level of human pollutants and industrial effluents that affect 400 million people living close by.

In 2010, the Indian government launched a $4 billion campaign to ensure all effluents are treated and diverted from the river by 2020.

As the Ganga continues to run its course through the continent, one can only hope that her life as a river is eternal and that the sustenance she has provided to so many Indians is treasured by future generations.
Harishankar reflects that, just as many women survive in the face of adversity, “Though abused, mistreated, Ganga is ever strong, graceful and nurturing.”

Friday, March 11-Sunday, March 13. Nicholas Studio, South Coast Repertory, 655 Towne Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 708-5555. Tickets: (949) 874-3662; (use promo code 5272).