Twins jazz up Bharatantayam at NY debut

Riya Kapoor and Sara Kapoor
Riya Kapoor and Sara Kapoor

NEW YORK: Twin sisters Riya and Sara Kapoor made their Rangapravesh, or onstage debut this past December 2015 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in a show they called “A Night of Moves.” In the ceremony, the girls performed the traditional Bharatantayam dance form and were accompanied by a Carnatic orchestra and a New York Jazz Quartet, marking the first time this ancient tradition was done in this format and choreography.

In their Rangapravesh, 15-year-old artists Riya and Sara Kapoor shared with the audience the culmination of over 10 years of intensive dance training and mastery of the Bharatanatyam dance form. According to their Guru Swati Bhise, the 2,000-year-old dance form requires mastery of dance, music, theater, mime, iconography, geometry and mathematics. When combined, the audience experienced a beautiful display of a dance and acting performance, invoking varied emotions over the course of the two-hour, ten part recital.

At her students’ request, Swati Bhise melded jazz into the usually classical program, all the while staying true to the Carnatic and Bharatanatyam traditions. This was important to Riya and Sara as they wanted to recognize their ancestral heritage and pay homage to their New York identity as both worlds are a reflection of who they are as people and performers. Additionally, they wanted to share their unique spin on this traditional ceremony, which until Night of Moves had remained mostly unchanged for generations.

The girls chose to honor jazz music legend George Wein and salute his countless contributions to music and the performing arts. The girls were introduced to jazz through his Newport Folk Festival, which they have attended every year since they were young.

The debut performance of Night of Moves was attended by over 1,100 friends and family with notable attendees covering cross-sections of finance, law, technology, civic life and the arts. In addition, Riya and Sara invited students and faculty from several schools throughout Manhattan to view their groundbreaking performance.

The ceremony, started with an introduction by Emcee Kavi Kapoor, Riya and Sara’s younger brother, who welcomed everyone to the performance and delighted the crowd with his personal anecdotes. Then, the girls took to the stage to receive their blessing from their Guru Bhise and the orchestra before launching into their performance.

What followed were dances that showed the characteristics of Bharatantayam, including its intricate movements with all parts of the body, including calculated foot patterns and facial expressions. Each movement within this dance form is utilized to convey a wide spectrum of emotions, best captured in the Navarasa section of the performance. For that component, the girls depicted the nine core emotions of Classical Indian Dance – beauty and love (Sringara); valor or heroism (Viram); sorrow (Karunyam); laughter (Hasya); anger (Raudram); surprise (Adbhutam); fear (Bhayanakam); disgust (Bibhatsam) and peace (Santam) – all of which were conveyed through subtle facial expressions and body contortions.

In addition to testing the girls’ ability to act and convey emotion in the Navarasa, their Rangapravesh performance also tested their physical and mental stamina in the Varnam. According to their Guru Bhise, this segment is where both girls are expected to improvise as they execute the mnemonics recited by Bhise and produced by the drummer. The girls used their knowledge of the intricate footwork patterns, movement, music and acting to convey a classical love story of a young girl enchanted, but constantly rebuffed by the Lord Shiva.

Guru Bhise, a protégé of Sonal Mansingh, India’s pre-eminent practitioner of the Pandanallur style which emphasizes geometric movements of the Bharatantayam form, took to the stage to congratulate the girls on their accomplishment at the performance’s conclusion. For her, the girls became more than just students-they became an extension of her.

“We became more than just student and teacher, we became the ones who make fun of the parents,” she quipped. Bhise said she found teaching them to be fulfilling, adding “I’d like to say Sara and Riya, you have done me proud.”

Prior to “A Night of Moves,” Bhise announced that Riya and Sara Kapoor’s Rangapravesh would be her final student presentation. In addition, World renowned jazz producer, George Wein congratulated the girls on their debut and said, “All I could think of is the majesty and ethereal beauty of all women.”

India Post News Service

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