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Living Arts

In India, the aesthetic strikes a balance between the ancient and the modern, the classical and the folk. Come to a recital and you witness a moving eloquence: each motion a suggestion, each gesture a silent phrase.

Dance in India is a rhythm capture in the vast plains and enraptured to the beat of the musicians. Eyes, faces, hands, feet move to varying moods, reflecting an idiom of the perfection of an ancient art.

Home to Bharata Natyam, once performed in temples by devdasis.

Indian dance reflects a magnificent heritage, individually perfected by each dancer.

Aiding the swishing of silk, the glitter of diamonds and the note of tinkling bells worn on the dancer's feet is the orchestra.

The major percussion is the tabla, pakhawaj or mridangam played to an intricate beat by the artiste's fingers. Other major instruments are the sitar and veena, stringed instruments and the harmonium, a key board instrument. But a major orchestra has these and a large number of their variations. Each region has its peculiarities and instruments. Among the more common, however, are the tanpura-a stringed instrument used as a drone, and the shehnai and nadaswaram, wind instruments used at weddings and associated with welcomes and joyous celebrations.

Dance and drama in India are synonymous. Each expression of a dancer tells us a story. But certain dance forms have become the basis of the theatre tradition in India. Of these, Kathakali is the most well known with the dancers garbed in brilliant plumage, their magnificent make-up having taken the best part of a day. Then there is the Yakshagana, and the Bhavai and Tamasha, the latter very popular in west India and expressive of more modern needs.

Modern theatre directors have experimented with the dramatic form resulting in startling variations: ballets in the, Yakshagana and MayLirbhanj Chhau strain, musical extravaganzas and street theatre. Each of them owes to the tradition of the past.

The excitement of the Bhangra never ceases. The Ghoomar is poetry in motion. Folk dancers gather in striking ensemble to recollect notes on the beautiful hills and streams, the mountains and the jungles that are their home. The snow lion pounces from the highlands of Himachal to Sikkim. The skirts of the women spinning to the Dandiya Rass flip-flap to the clack-clack of the sticks in their hands. Qawwali singers clap their hands in time to the beat of the song. And the milk- maids look beseechingly as Krishna and Radha dance the Raas Lila.

The Indian dancer catches in her movements the shyness of the gazelle, the haunting smile of a lingering memory and the divinity of the great Cosmic Dancer, Shiva, the Nataraja, to whom all dancers must pay obeisance before and after each performance. To have seen an Indian dance is to have experienced bliss.




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