Third-year psychobiology student Devika Chandramohan said many people tend to associate South Asian culture with Bollywood movies and Indian food.
However, the region also has a rich history of classical arts that she and other members of UCLA Taara hope to share at “Utsav,” a showcase of classical South Asian music and dance, the showcase’s director said.
UCLA Taara, a South Asian classical dance team, will host “Utsav” for the first time in the Northwest Campus Auditorium on Saturday night. Rupini Kamat, one of the captains of UCLA Taara, said “Utsav” aims to not only celebrate South Asian arts and culture, but also to raise awareness for domestic abuse, a salient issue in today’s society.
“It’s important to show that these arts don’t just belong to the past, (but that) they have relevance in the present as well,” Kamat said.
Kamat, a fourth-year physics student, said members of UCLA Taara began planning “Utsav” in September. Chandramohan said the members wanted to build the foundation for a showcase of South Asian arts in Southern California. For the competition season, Kamat said the team put together a dance telling the story of a woman in an abusive relationship.
UCLA Taara will perform a slightly modified version of the choreography it performed during the competition season with fewer dancers, Kamat said. The choreography features various different classical Indian dance styles, such as Bharatanatyam, which utilizes more grounded, sharp movements and straightened arms, and Kuchipudi, which tends to have more rounded movements, like the bending of arms, Kamat said.
Kamat said other groups will perform at “Utsav” as well, such as the a cappella group Naya Zamaana and the University of California, San Diego-based classical Indian dance team, Pushpanjali. “Utsav” will also feature a presentation from SAHARA, an agency that aims to support youth, elderly people and survivors of domestic abuse of South Asian descent.
“For our piece that we (practiced) for competitions, we were embracing a slightly more serious theme. We were talking about domestic violence and the process of recovering and transitioning out of a domestic violence relationship,” Kamat said. “And we were saying that if we were going to do this kind of theme, then we should do something to at least support the people that we’re going to be talking about.”
Bhavya Malladi, a second-year biochemistry student and assistant director of “Utsav,” said the group hopes the event will eventually become a yearly competition, rather than just a showcase.
At this year’s “Utsav,” UCLA Taara’s choreography will feature dancers portraying some characters in a stereotypically happy relationship and others in a relationship in which the woman suffers from domestic abuse, Malladi said. Malladi, who portrays a woman in a healthy relationship, said body language and facial expressions are the primary ways through which the team depicts the differences between the two relationships.
For example, Malladi said that at the beginning of the dance, two women are folding clothes and their respective partners catch their attention and lift them up to dance. One man forcefully grabs his partner’s hand, subtly suggesting the abuse the woman faces, she said. Meanwhile, the other woman’s partner playfully takes her hand, snapping his fingers at her to get her attention, she said.
Kamat said the group decided to choreograph a dance that focuses on domestic violence because a former member of the team focused her senior thesis on life in a domestic abuse shelter. Chandramohan said the group consulted the alumna in an effort to portray the story as accurately as possible without glamorizing the situation.
“We wanted to make sure that we were very correct in the way that we portrayed (domestic abuse),” Chandramohan said. “While we are giving a positive final message in it, we also want to be portraying that it’s difficult and it doesn’t always end perfectly.”
Chandramohan also said she ultimately hopes “Utsav” will expose the UCLA community to a broader understanding of South Asian arts. In putting together “Utsav,” Chandramohan said she wants people to learn to appreciate the centuries-old traditions surrounding classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, which can be incorporated into the contemporary performance landscape.
“We really wanted to keep these traditions alive, by … presenting how we are not just keeping these old traditions alive, but transforming it into a medium in which we can tell these modern stories,” she said.