‘Shanti’ musical extravaganza resonates love, peace and harmony

1CUPERTINO: Flint Center auditorium in Cupertino was transformed into a stage set for bringing peace, unity and harmony through a multi faceted program – Shanti, a journey of peace. It is a musical theater extravaganza denoting peace, tranquility, serenity and a state of oneness with the universe. As stated in the preview of this performance, it is considered a choral symphony centering around Indian ragas that narrate and showcase the five thousand years of Indian cultural history.

Kalyan Vishwanathan of the Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF) is credited with bringing this show to the Bay Area, and is tasked with raising funds for graduate and doctoral studies in Dharmic religions at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) at UC Berkeley.

Unanimous in their adulation for Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran, the visionary creator of this show, were the participants and audience members alike. Kudos to the maestro for delivering a message of peace through the universal language of music.”Wow”, “amazing”, “incredible”, “stunning” were some of the accolades from the younger audience members. More mature and articulate appreciation was, “I became very emotional with the core-touching thematic presentation. The theme is so relevant today. Hope it will initiate a positive change a little bit at a time”.

A choir member shared, “The coming together of different art genres took this presentation to new heights. The effect was exponentially synergistic and soul-stirring”.

Another participant commented, “Like the twinkling stars on a grand sky amidst celestial bodies, we, the specks on the grand stage of Shanti took a bow for our Guru with beaming faces.” Another singer commented on how much Sanskrit she had to memorize in order to sing those shlokas!

The sheer magnitude of the human power in this mammoth endeavor begs commitment from more than 250 members from the Indian and Western choir and orchestra. The dance compositions were curated from six different genres by Usha Srinivasan of Sangam Arts, and their flawless choreography transported the experience to a new sublime when the dancers twirled, leaped and curtsied with love and devotion for their art so palpably visible.

The musical scores, written by Kanniks utilized classical ragas, such as Yaman, Bhupali, Desh and some others to depict the required mood and set the tone for the narrative unfurling on stage. An added personal touch was the influence of childhood memories that Kanniks had growing up in Chennai, that found a resurrection in his musical compositions.

Further use of Sanskrit shlokas and Hindustani taranas added nuanced dimensions to preserve the culturally rich heritage that was being showcased. The skillful conductor, Dr. Scot Hanna-Weir, Director of the Santa Clara Chorale, seamlessly blended the western music into its eastern counterparts, where the two were sometimes indistinguishable, and, at others, complementary.

2As an epic production, it spans the arc of the five thousand year old cultural history of India, rooted in its humble beginnings at the banks of life- sustaining river Ganga, the fluidity of which was expressed through a modern/ballet fusion. The tradition of acquiring and passing knowledge through the respectful engagements of guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) came next which was presented as a suite in six movements showcasing various classical dance forms from Kathak to Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi.

The winsome dancers gracefully dipped and swayed with abhinaya and taal to convey the meanings of the accompanying varied music. With the cultural progress came the realization of interconnectedness of all life that alone is the giver of shanti (peace). Strains of the music in this sketch were reminiscent of the ancient Hymns of Creation.

The emergence of the plurality of Faith was depicted next as a suite in five movements. Notable among these were the young, joyful, vibrant Garba dancers to the beat of upbeat, almost marching band-like sounds of the music; the saffron and white garbed dancers performing the sun salutations in the yoga/Kallari/Bharatanrittam inspired movements. Other transitions were captured through slideshows of Mughal monuments and artifacts accompanied by the symphonic choir sounds.

The slideshow, narrative and music continued the story of prosperity of India that also brought forth great strife, which led to the absence of peace and disconnectedness, which is the element of Ashanti (lack of peace) and destruction. The cycle moves on to revert to reflections on restoring peace after the wrath of destruction. In a surprising shift, this piece was sans dance movements, which seemed like a missed opportunity to showcase apt dance forms that are often used to depict violence, discord, and rage, such as Bharatnatyam which relies heavily on abhinaya (acting).

The final piece of this ensemble is the renewal after destruction in the ongoing cycle of life and death, with a spellbinding Dance of Creation executed with joyful abundance. A final message about the future brings in little kids – our future hope – on stage to sing a song about Peace and Joy. The colorfully vibrant finale truly epitomized the message of love, harmony and hope as all dancers congregated and allowed us to glimpse the unity in diversity.

The discrete pieces of the saga were connected by explicit narration, sometimes overly lengthy, when brevity would have enhanced the enjoyment, letting the music speak. The message was often repetitive and overwhelming – almost a case of too much of a good thing at times. Overall, the performance was a resonating success. Most impressive was the universal feeling of love, peace and harmony that the participants expressed, which, obviously was genuine and not rehearsed.

The Bay Area is proud to have been witness to such a labor of love from the creator and executors of this show, and bask in reflected glory as they got to see local talent create this magic. If you missed this show and want to experience all that is being discussed, you have the opportunity on May 21 at the Interstake Auditorium in Oakland to do so.

Archana Asthana
India Post News Service

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