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10 Umang Tarang: A US Tour of Dance and Poetry

An idea came to life in the month of April, 2017, in five cities of the United States of America; a vision of bringing together poetry and dance on the same stage. Poetry has always been an integral part of the Indian classical dance forms, but what was unique about this presentation was the fact that the dance form was Bharatanatyam and the poetry was in Hindustani.

The oral tradition of poetry is a unique feature of India. The historical institution of poetry recitals known as ‘kavisammelans’, have witnessed great poets in the past centuries. Prof. Ashok Chakradhar is one of the most illustrious poets of our times belonging to that tradition. His fame goes far beyond the borders of India and Hindi speakers all over the world are familiar with his literary work and his distinctive poetic style. His daughter, Dr. Sneha Chakradhar is an established Bharatanatyam dancer based in New Delhi. A disciple of (Padmashri) Smt. Geeta Chandran, she has travelled extensively with her dance and performed at prestigious spaces in India and abroad.

The nine classical dance forms of India are like the cultural ambassadors, representing the ethos of the State they belong to. The diversity among the arts in India is beyond imagination. The vast Indian literature and the collective knowledge of common narratives, unite these dance forms and present them with a sense of shared identity. The dance styles rely heavily on text to be able to narrate stories and thus, the purpose of devising this entire presentation has been to reinstate the significance of the written word in dance.

Shri Anoop Bhargava, a well-known Hindi poet and litterateur based in New Jersey, USA collaborated with Prof. Ashok Chakradhar and Dr. Sneha Chakradhar in conceptualizing this amalgamation of poetry and dance in a presentation bringing together literature, melody and movement on stage. His organization ‘Jhilmil USA’ teamed up with Prof. Chakradhar’s ‘Jaijaivanti Foundation’, New Delhi and he worked tirelessly to bring the Indian artists to present their art to the American audiences. Several organisations and individuals working for the promotion of Hindi in different cities of the US joined the mission and took on the organizational responsibilities in their respective cities.

Shri Abhinav Shukla, a popular poet based in the US, joined the father-daughter duo and the team together performed in five cities of the US. The first two performances in New York and New Jersey, witnessed an unexpected turn out of Hindi lovers. These shows were presented in collaboration with Indian Festivals Association, along with Zee TV and Asia TV as the media partners. The audiences got the opportunity to experience the range and scope of Prof. Chakradhar’s poetry, his poignant, social commentary garnished and served with humour and satire.  These days, what takes place in the name of ‘hasya kavisammelan’ is almost deplorable. Sexist jokes, popular social media quotes and rampant plagiarism have become the norm and the audiences are forced to accept these due to a severe dearth of talent and a lack of exposure. This was a rare occasion which allowed them to witness the true flavor of the oral tradition of kavisammelan, with original poems, meaningful satire and pleasant humour.

The audiences also thoroughly enjoyed and highly appreciated the interpretation of Hindustani poetry exploring works of Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Meerabai and Ashok Chakradhar, presented through the Indian classical style of Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam is a very popular dance form in the US among the NRI community. There are innumerable dance schools all over the country and ‘Arangetram’ (Bharatanatyam debut) performances are frequently attended. Giving their valuable feedback, however, many audience members shared how it was for the very first time that they actually related with the dance compositions. Bharatanatyam is traditionally performed in the south Indian languages of Tamil and Telugu. This experiment of interpreting Hindi poetry through Bharatanatyam certainly helped in expanding the horizons of the art form and reaching out to newer audiences.

The success of the east coast set the ball rolling and the team travelled to the west coast presenting back-to-back shows in San Jose, Seattle and Portland. The members of ‘Akhil Vishwa Hindi Jyoti’ (San Jose), ‘Utsav’ (Seattle) and ‘Hindi Sangam’ (Portland) were commendable hosts and experienced organisers. This unique event, bringing together the performing arts traditions of India’s north and south, fascinated and enthralled the audiences. This successful venture has hopefully introduced its audiences to new ways of appreciating the arts and is certainly a step in the right direction for promoting Hindi in the USA.