Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kuchipudi - Shiva Likes to Watch You Dance!

What I saw this weekend was a dance of extraordinary strength and stamina performed by 18-year-old Mayuri, who has studied this form of Indian dance since she was 10. Her demonstration of Kuchipudi was a 2 ½ hour, gorgeous ceremony of love; love for Shiva, love for the Guru, love of history and culture, and love of being a part of antiquity. The story starts in the 13th Century, long before anyone thought to include women in any form of dance. Women became the central dancers of Kuchipudi several centuries later, perfecting the art of the dance drama style now known as Kuchipudi, telling stories, conducting prayers, and dancing while standing on the rim of a brass plate.

Close to two hundred people, both Indian and not, came to view Mayuri’s masterpiece. Men in beautiful purple turbans and long white or purple and magenta robes were resplendent among the women in their saris, glittering in every shade of purple and pink, turquoise, yellow, and gold. Children dressed in saries, tutus and t-shirts came to witness Mayuri’s achievement. At one point, speaking with a friend of mine, who is also not Indian, we agreed that we both wanted to wear saris but lamented the inevitable perception by others of being posers if we did. Oh, to wear such diaphanous, sparkling, shimmering raiment! The Gap just doesn’t compare. All the beautiful garments were surpassed by the costumes worn onstage. Mayuri glowed within her colorful costumes and with the vibrance of a young life living up to its fullest capabilities.

Not only is Mayuri an outstanding Kuchipudi dancer; her diligence carries over into the rest of her life, winning her multiple scholarships to a renowned university, academic prowess, and the demeanor of a woman, not a teenager. In an age of instant gratification, sound bites, texting, and ever-shortening attention spans, Mayuri defies those who cry that a generation has gone to waste. Not all are lost.

After dedicating herself to this strenuous art form for 8 years, she was here to demonstrate her prowess and step across the boundary from student to performer. Never mind the numerous elaborate costumes, the incredible body paint on face, hands, fingers, toes and feet and the headdresses and intricate layers of jewelry. Never mind the three musicians and vocalists who also dedicate themselves to this preservation of culture. What we saw was an athlete of Olympic stamina and perseverance, a woman of beauty and vigor, a dancer with endless grace and agility, and over all, we saw the goddess in an icon of Indian culture and pride.

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