MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Graceful dance moves, meaningful stories, and a great cause – that’s what “Pragati,” a dance event during which three artists presented stories from Indian mythology using the Indian classical dance of Kathak, was all about.
“Pragati,” which means progress, was a collection of solo recitals by Indian American dancers Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas, and Seibi Lee, all senior disciples of late Pandit Chitresh Das. The dance performance, which served as the launching pad for what Nivas called the first ever endowment for Indian classical dance and music – a sustainable source of support and income for seasoned and budding talent in Indian classical art – was presented Sept. 17 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts here.
The evening came alive with music and vocals by guest artists Jayanta Banerjee, Vaibhav Mankad, and Satyaprkash Mishra, while narration by Poonam Narkar weaved in the stories beautifully.
The evening started with the original work of Mehta. She presented the story of “Chandanbala,” a Jain saint, who brought out unparalleled compassion in the face of extreme adversity.
This was followed by a dramatic, powerful performance by Lee. She told the story of a heroic warrior, Houyi, who saves the world from destruction, but is unable to save his own love.
The event came to a close with an enchanting performance by Nivas, who told the story of Meerabai, which was set in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. The recital brought out the courage and devotion of Meera, who stood against the patriarchy to follow her devotion to Lord Krishna.
“Our guru’s generation was the last one to receive the benefits of patronage to maintain this art form. We are lucky to have been trained by a teacher who instilled a sense of responsibility to preserve this art form,” Nivas told India-West.
“Pragati” aims to raise awareness about this dance form and help raise funds to create a corpus to support the artists.
“Many ancient art forms vanish because there are no funds to support the artists. This endowment is one of its kind to support an Indian classical dance form. With this endowment, we want to provide long-term support to artists devoted to Kathak in our lineage followed by many others,” Nivas added.
Both Nivas and Mehta were born into families of scientists. Both trained in Kathak for over 17 years and gave up their careers to devote their lives to preserve this dance form. Together, they formed the Leela Dance Collective with other disciples of Pandit Chitresh Das, who wanted to work independently and yet in collaboration with other artists.
Mehta, who runs the academy in Los Angeles, Calif., said, “This endowment will provide artists with a stable source of income to live with dignity and find means to focus on their creativity. Our goal is to raise a million dollars by Dec. 31this year and five million in three years.”
A performance of “Pragati” was also held Sept. 9 in Irvine featuring Mallika Sarabhai and with opening performances by the Leela Dance Collective.