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Mythology Of Our Sacred Rivers

The creatively choreographed new Kathak dance piece entitled Invoking the River, which premiered at the ODC Theatre in San Francisco on October 14, 2022, explores the confluence of mythology and environment of India’s sacred rivers.

“Invoking the River is our way of telling our inter-related stories,” says Charlotte Moraga, choreographer of Invoking the River. “Water flows. Water moves through every living thing and connects us all. It is powerful. It both creates and destroys. It holds memories. The same water that flows today through our rivers and our veins was probably in the blood of ancient beings. When we listen to the rivers, can we hear their stories? Invoking the River is about this journey through life and time told through movement, music and our common bonds in the face of urgently needed change to preserve the sacredness of life that is embodied in water.” 

Alka Raghuram. (Image Credit: Chitresh Das Dance Company).

Live Accompaniment

The performance had a live original score by the Raga Pianist, Utsav Lal, accompanied by Nilan Chaudhuri on tabla. The beautiful multimedia scenic design and poetry for the show was the creation of Alka Raghuram. 

Spellbinding performances by four dancers of the Chitresh Das Dance Company in both individual and combined pieces created magic on stage at San Francisco’s ODC theater. The dancers were Vanita Mundhra, Shruti Pai, Mayuka Sarukki and Kritika Sharma.

Lal’s mesmerizing innovative handling of Indian Classical Music on a western instrument (piano) is his signature style because of which he is popularly known as the Raga Pianist.

Kathak As The Storytelling Medium

Moraga is the inaugural director of the Chitresh Das Youth Company (CDYC) committed to developing and nurturing the next generation of Kathak artists. She has choreographed for the CDYC for almost two decades. 

The program commenced with a short multimedia and poetic introduction. This set the tone of the production, followed by the first joint performance of the show by all four dancers. The opening performance showcased the mythical heaven and the flow of India’s sacred river—Ganges to Earth, caught in Shiva’s locks, to soften its descent. 

Giving Voice To The Rivers

“I gave the river a first-person voice and the multimedia piece acts like a sutradhar (anchor) to the entire production to convey clarity and context,” said Alka, an award-winning filmmaker.

“The narration combines myth and the current day plight of rivers in India. It’s paradoxical how rivers are revered in Indian culture but not maintained, and used as dumping grounds for all sorts of waste. A river is not a powerless victim at the hands of humanity. Nature always holds the upper hand is the abiding main idea in the multimedia piece.”

Vanita Mundhra (Image Credit: Chitresh Das Dance Company).

Dance And Drama

The first combined piece was followed by individual dances by the four accomplished dancers. Each dancer amply displayed both the Nattaya (drama) and the Nritya (dance) elements with beauty and dexterity in their unique styles. 

In the final tour de force performance titled Sangam (coming together), the experienced and accomplished dancers presented perfect synchronicity to Moraga’s ace choreography on the score of Utsav Lal. 

This was Utsav’s first collaboration with the Chitresh Das Dance Company and with kathak as a dance form.

“It’s been quite a big production. I have slowly and patiently put together the score in collaboration with other artists in the production. We had many back-and-forth communications online to bring it together as an integrated score highlighting rivers as great sources of renewal, regeneration and regrowth,” tells the New York-based Utsav.

“We might think we are separate from nature, but we are a part of nature and nature is in all of us,” says Alka.

Shalini Kathuria Narang

Shalini Kathuria Narang is a Silicon Valley based software professional and freelance journalist. She has written and published extensively for several national and international newspapers, magazines...