Indo-American Heritage Museum Showcases Amazing India at Navy Pier

Chicago IL: The Indo-American Heritage Museum (IAHM) staged its annual “Amazing India” program on Sunday, March 17, 2013 from noon to 5 pm as part of Navy Pier’s “Neighborhoods of the World” program from Feb. 17 to April 7 that showcases the ethnic diversity of the immigrant communities across Chicagoland. Presented at the Crystal Gardens in partnership with the Consulate General of India, the show featured dances by Chitrahar Cultural Academy, Natya Dance Theatre, Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts, Anila Sinha Foundation, Satrangi Dance Group, Hareepa! Chicago, and Meher Dance Company. Madhoolica Dear and Happie Datt from IAHM introduced “Amazing India” and emceed the event. The venue was tightly packed right from noon and audience participation continued unabated till 5 pm.

Choreographer-instructor Anjali Julka introduced Chitrahar Cultural Academy founded by her mother, the late Vichitra Nayyar. Two groups of children aged 3–6 and 7–12 performed to the following Bollywood songs: Bum Bum Bole, Bole Chudiyan, Navrai Majhi, and Sadi Gali. Julka’s sister choreographer-instructor Alka Nayyar danced to Piya Tose Naina Lage and Gun Gun Guna. Julka and Nayyar then led an interactive Bollywood Bhangra.

Natya Dance Theatre offered three items, introduced by Nithya Sunder, beginning with “colors of rhythms” (nṛttasvarāvali), in which geometrical designs were juxtaposed to sculpturesque poses. The joyful abandon of Gypsy Rhapsody by Amritha Rajesh, Monisha Subramanyam, and Anushka Chakraborthy depicted their idyllic hilly lands far from the selfish fetters of civilization. Śiva’s cosmic dance at various Tamil temple shrines expressed the unity of visible nature and the transcendent divine through the rhythms of life. Nṛttasvarāvali and Śiva were performed by Shruti Mohan, Veena Murali, Sahithya Chelliah, Yashaswini Iyer, and Srilakshmi Rajesh.

Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts presented a Gujarati stick-dance (daṇḍiya) performed by Afro-American girls from the Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School. Lavani dances from the state of Maharashtra are not often witnessed even by the wider Desi community. Performed by women wearing nine-yard saris, Lavani is noted for its powerful rhythms, passionate sentiments, and songs sung in quick tempo. The two solos, each choreographed by the dancer herself, were by Radhika Akolkar and the exuberant Priyanka Mehendale, who held the audience spellbound as they whistled back in spontaneous appreciation (tamāśā).

Medha Bhargaw (pink) and Charu Jain (green) from the Anila Sinha Foundation presented a gracefully undulating Kathak piece. Laxmi Sarathy (orange) then joined them to depict the naughty Krishna dousing and ducking while flirting with colors as variegated as their costumes in the company of the indulgent cowherdesses during the Holi festival. During the workshop, the trio demonstrated the dance components, especially the various spins so distinctive of Kathak.
Many non-Desis hastened onto the stage, during the interlude, to try out the different ways of donning the exotic Indian sari with the helping hands offered by the Club of Indian Women.

Rajinder Singh Mago of the Punjabi Cultural Society presented the world famous Punjabi folk dance Bhangra demonstrated by Hareepa! Chicago. Karolina Kalita, Nicole Murphy, Erin Matson and North de Pencier are all US-born and of non-Indian descent. Their raw exuberant motions, readily intelligible and appealing to all, were a great hit, as was their workshop that followed.

Satrangi Dance Group had come all the way with its Artistic Coordinator Rupal Patel from Portage, Indiana, to present two folk items. Rangeelo Maaro Dholna includes the typical Rajasthani twirling (ghoomar) and was performed by Mahi Patel, Aarya Oswal, Nidhee Patel, Simran Shah, Riya Sharma, and Esha Shukla. These young girls wore traditional brightly colored ghaghra that fascinated the spectators. Gujarati Garba is traditionally performed during the goddess festival of Nine Nights (Navarātri). Four different forms of this folk dance, using different props, were choreographed into this second piece. The women and their three male drummers were Rupal Patel, Vaibhavi Malusare, Archana Murarka, Shwetank Murarka, Sona Murarka, Sameer Oswal, Aarti Oswal, Deven Patel, Mira Patel, Kiran Shah, and Gita Sharma.

Duo Priya Shah and Nidhan Singh from Meher Dance Company performed Bollywood Bhangra and then conducted an interactive workshop that drew the largest number of participants from the ever-intrigued audience. With Gopi Engineer as Artistic Director, the company engages in a variety of dance initiatives including music video production, film choreography, performances for special events, and workshops as well as kids and adult dance classes locally.
Spectator turnout was so large that many were seated in front on the floor from noon. There was full workshop participation from people of all colors ranging from toddlers with their mothers to the elderly, including a few who joined in vigorously after almost every segment. Everyone interviewed by Asian Media USA described the event as “wonderful” and “amazing.”

Among them, 66-year old Elena Orzea, from small town Rumania, had been attracted by Indian music already in her native land and was drawn by a poster at Navy Pier. Isabelle C., originally from Philippines, who had previously watched the Italian and Chinese events in the same series, declared Amazing India to be the best. Directly exposed for the first time to Indian dancing, she especially liked the sculpturesque traditional poses of the Bharata Natyam. Both women voted Bollywood-Bhangra (from Meher and Hareepa!) for being so vibrant, alive, and accessible.
A continuous stream of curiosity-seekers browsed through and tried out the cosmetics and trinkets from vendors including Passage to India, Regal, Resham, and Sanaya Beauty Salon. Manvee Vaid was personally at hand to explain the wide range of folk art and illustrated books on display at her Deccan Footprints stall. Gaylord Restaurant offered vegetable biryani, samosas, chicken, and mango lassi throughout the day to replenish waning energies.

Photo captions for Amazing India on Mar. 17 at Navy Pier, Chicago
1) Shruti Mohan, Veena Murali, Sahithya Chelliah, Yashaswini Iyer, and Srilakshmi Rajesh from Natya Dance Theatre depicting Shiva’s cosmic dance through Bharata Natyam.
2) (L to R) Nicole Murphy, Erin Matson, North de Pencier, and Karolina Kalita from Hareepa! Chicago performing Punjabi Bhangra with gusto.
3) Satrangi dance group from Indiana performs Gujarati Garba with props.
4) Nidhan Singh (L) and Priya Shah (R) from Meher Dance Company conduct Bollywood Bhangra workshop.
5) Lavani male musicians Ameya Shrotriya, Amit Bodhani, and Rohan Kulkarni with female dancers Radhika Akolkar (rose) and Priyanka Mehendale (purple) presented by Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts.
6) Dandiya by Afro-American girls from Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School presented by Kalapriya.
7) Kids from Chitrahar Dance Academy join dancer-choreographers Alka Nayyar (pink) and Anjali Julka (white) in leading a Bollywood Bhangra workshop
8) Classical Kathak by Medha Bhargaw (pink) and Charu Jain (green) from Anila Sinha Foundation as Laxmi Sarathy (orange) looks on.
9) Sari-tying from Club of Indian Women– Isabelle C. (center in red spotted sari, helped by Ketki Parikh) was interviewed by Asian Media USA. In foreground with mike is Master of Ceremonies for Amazing India, Madhoolica Dear of Indo-American Heritage Museum.
10) Manvee Vaid (L), dealer in Indian folk art, standing before her Deccan Footprints stall.