Dance Review, ‘Eyes Beneath the Night’: Kalakriti Dance School’s 10th anniversary

Dance Review, ‘Eyes Beneath the Night’: Kalakriti Dance School’s 10th anniversary

By By Craig G. Campbell, Guest Reviewer

On Saturday night, June 22, Rockford’s art scene was treated to a vibrant 10th anniversary celebration of classical Indian dance by the Kalakriti Dance Troupe in the Performing Arts Room (PAR) at Rock Valley College. Kalakriti, which means “kala” or art, and “kriti” creation or work, was founded by Priya Venkataraman in 1992 to preserve this 3,000-year-old dance form and to encourage participation in the spiritual and artistic legacy of Indian culture.

Under “Aunty’s” benevolent care, as her students call Ms. Venkataraman, Kalakriti has grown from a small group to more than 60 students from the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin Indian communities. Priya began her classical Indian dance training as a child of seven in New Delhi, and has received two artist fellowship grants from the Illinois Arts Council (1966 and 2002) for her work.

The evening performance began with a “Sloka” or hymn in praise of Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles and patron of business and literature. Dressed in black silk with red and gold accents, Priya’s junior students, ages 5 to 12, performed this dance with innocent appeal. The Sloka was followed by another piece for Ganesh and one for Lord Shiva, the lord of dance. With each number, the dancers became more luminous as silk gowns of lapis blue, cadmiun yellow, azure green, gold, and orange accentuated the stylized make-up, earrings, bracelets and braided hair. Highlighting the costuming were the “gungroos” or ankle bells worn by each dancer. The bells are used as counterpoint between the music and dance, each dancer stamping his feet to the intricate rhythms of tablas, sitars, flutes and vocals. The last dance set before intermission, a very complex and detailed “Varnam,” wove an extraordinary fusion of hand, eye and facial gestures with sculptural body movements and mime. The Shakti energy flew off the dancers for this piece that featured many of Priya’s senior students, including Vidya Chandrasekaran and Shilpee Singh.

Kalakriti’s evening performance had one delightful surprise: “Eyes Beneath the Night,” a solo piece performed by Sunita Maddali and choreographed by Sandra Schramel, a dance instructor from DeKalb, and Priya. This dance piece was a “collaboration” of modern dance and classical Indian motifs wound on threads of consciousness, motion and space. Ms. Maddali’s performance was superb understatement to the musical accompaniment of violinist Summer Soreienson, and tablaist, Tim Rush. Byron Wise, the musical composer, was commissioned by Priya for this number. The joy and devotion that Priya’s students express makes Kalakriti an absolute “must see” for all future performances and lovers of dance.

Craig Campbell is a local historian with a lifelong interest in history, research and creative writing.

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