“Mesmerizing,” “enthralling” and “fascinating: these were just some of the words used by the audiences to describe “Dashavtar,” a spectacular dance drama presented June 22 at the Sophia B. Clarke Theater in Walnut, Calif., by the students of Arti Manek’s Shankara Dance Academy.
The lavish show, produced by Manek along with her guru Abhay Shankar Mishra, featured over 50 local artists of all ages, the youngest being six. Manek and Mishra were also part of the troupe along with Kakoli and Abhinav Mishra from Delhi.
The performance started on time with a pre-recorded Guru Vandana sung by legendary Kathak artist Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj.
It was explained to the viewers, many of them Indian American, that “Dashavtar” means the ten ‘avtars’ or reincarnations of Lord Vishnu per the Hindu scriptures.
Each avtar was brought to life with colorful costumes, different backdrops, stage effects, slideshows, lighting, sound effects, customized props, and of course, with the artistry of the performers on stage.
The different reincarnations presented were in the following order: Matsya (fish); Kurma (tortoise); Varaha (boar); Narasimha (man-lion); Varmana (dwarf); Parasuram (the man with an axe); Rama (Lord Rama); Krishna/Balram (Lord Krishna – herdsman); Buddha (the teacher of non-violence; and Kalki (who is anticipated to return to cure the world’s ills).
Each act seemed to make an impact and received an overwhelming response, with many attendees offering spontaneous loud outbursts of applause.
The grand finale was extraordinary when the entire cast systematically and graciously came on stage one by one as the “Om Jai Jagdish Hare” aarti played in the background.
The finale also witnessed a rousing standing ovation. When the stage was filled with artists dressed up in their onstage avtars and in costumes holding their related props, it made the attendees burst into loud screams and claps. This lasted for several minutes, proving each person was deeply moved by the show.
Ramesh Bharania, one of the attendees, said he was “glued” to his seat throughout the show and was amazed at the “realness” of each avtar.
A group of 45 seniors was also in the audience. They, in unison, expressed their sentiments, saying that “we have never seen a theater production of this caliber…so realistic in its performance, and so divine that we felt were being blessed by each of the avatars as they appeared on the stage.”
Many attendees, including senior students and graduates of the Shankara Dance Academy, appreciated Manek’s immense contribution to maintaining and bolstering the ancient art of Kathak and the many Indian dance and drama events comprising of the local artists.
Manek, a well-known name in Southern California, has been presenting folk and classical dance productions using local talent and amateur artists for the last several decades. She has been honored by the Indo American Associations of North America for extensively promoting the art of Kathak in the U.S. The Shankara Dance Academy has been commended by many, including Pandit Birju Maharaj.