Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 2, 2011


Shantala Shivalingapppa
UMass Fine Arts, Amherst, MA
October 28, 2011
by Barbara Stroup

Shantala Shivalingapppa brought a reverent and appreciative audience back in time to an Indian temple in her Bowker Auditorium presentation of Kuchipudi classical dance. Alone with four musicians on the stage, she both interpreted a narrative and made a religious statement with her choreography. Body movement was agile and athletic, hand and facial movement explicated a story, and she captured complete attention throughout.

As Ranjana Devi explained in her pre-concert talk on Indian classical dance, dance is theatre, and music is integral to it: "Without music there is no dance." Four musicians provided vocal expression of story line, flute embellishments, and percussion in absolute synchronization with Shantala's feet. They became a team of five and showed a total dedication to each other and to this art form. Its religious meaning was apparent to the largely western audience, even if the narrative was difficult to follow.

Kuchipudi dance is one of nine government-defined classical dance forms performed by women only, and is characterized by leaps and jumps. Shantala was costumed first in purple and then in white. Henna adorned her fingers and toes, making her long limbs appear even longer. The seven-part program began with an invocation to Ganesha, elephant-headed god of new beginnings and ended with Pasayadan, a prayer of peace and joy for all beings. The stage was mimimally decorated with diaphonous curtains and a small Shiva statue on one of several transparent shelves that floated above the floor.

Swayambhu was offered as part of the Asian Arts and Culture Program at UMass. Now almost 20 years old, the program includes diverse offerings to schools, audiences, and the general community. It illuminates the vast cultural heritage of many Asian and Middle Eastern countries by showcasing events and capturing touring artists for one-time performances here. Kudos to the Fine Arts Center for continuing to support this program.