I am not Indian. Not even a little. So, this review will be from the viewpoint of an outsider without a background in Indian classical dance. But I am fortunate to live in a community with a large Indian population and count Indians among my closest friends, so I have love and respect for India’s rich cultural heritage. 

I attended Dhrupad Jhankaar 2021 by Dance Tantra in collaboration with Sadhana in Issaquah, Washington on November 20. Dance Tantra school is led by the tireless Piyali Biswas, who also performed. The students’ dances were in the Bharatnatyam classical style, many choreographed by Biswas, and one choreographed by Smt. Shweta Prachande.

American popular culture can be overwhelming, even to born Americans. It eats up other cultures until they are unrecognizable. And yet, here I saw a community holding onto its deep, rich legacy of culture and art with joy and passion, even in terrible circumstances.

These young girls, many of whom have only been dancing a short while, worked hard and learned a difficult, intricate dance form—one in which the tiniest movement of a finger or eye carries significance. And they have done it during a pandemic, much of it remotely and without the benefit of their teacher’s direct control and guidance. 

Here they were, dozens of girls, from small children to young women, on a big stage, under bright lights, in front of a large audience, dancing their hearts out in their beautiful, glittering costumes. Being on stage can be both frightening and thrilling, but I can only imagine how much greater those feelings are after such long isolation. As an American without a strong ethnic heritage, it was extremely moving, and I was honored to witness it. 

This recital supports a local non-profit Sadhana’s project, “Pratisruti – A promise to be there,” to raise funds for Sumanasa Art Foundation in India which raises funds for marginalized artists. I was fascinated to learn about the performers and artisans in India and how they are struggling to survive. The generous spirit of the community here will surely ease their suffering.

Piyali Biswas’ multimedia performance on race, caste, and religion. (Image by Sandip Debnath)
Piyali Biswas’ multimedia performance on race, caste, and religion. (Image by Sandip Debnath)

The second half of the show featured guest artists. There was a presentation of Kathak dances by Anga Kala Dance Company and, most notably, a solo performance by guest Bharatnatyam dancer, Navya Maitri Konda from California It seems inadequate to call her a “dancer” as she is an accomplished actor and storyteller as well. I was drawn in by the way her precise and elegant movements and postures completely embodied the music at every instant. Her face and gestures were so vividly and subtly expressive, I felt sure she could tell the entire Ramayana with her eyebrows alone. What a treat it must have been for the young students of Dance Tantra to see what it is they are working so hard to achieve. Konda’s performance was followed by an original multimedia choreography by Biswas on race, caste, and religious discrimination. Her heartfelt passion for this important issue was apparent throughout and it was very interesting to see a less traditional application of classical dance. 

Village Theatre in Issaquah is an excellent venue. The sound was perfect – clear and loud enough to command your ear without being so loud as to hide the jingling bells on the dancers’ ankles or the slap of their hennaed feet on the boards. All the musical selections for the evening were excellent and I found myself tapping my own feet, trying to match the intricate rhythms. The lighting was also well done, beautifully highlighting the dancers without distracting from their performances. 

Overall, even though this was a dance recital with the expected variety of skill levels presented on stage, I was captivated and moved to be a witness to a cultural rite of passage shared by millions of children around the world. 

Eva Moon is a writer, performer, and composer. Her original musical plays have been staged across the U.S. and U.K. She has performed with many musical groups, including Chai Tea Latte, specializing in the fusion of Indian and Western songs.