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Schooled in tradition

By NAN BIALEK

October 2013

Twin sisters Divya and Soumya Kodali completed two rites of passage this year: Graduation from Hartland Arrowhead High School and, in a dazzling ceremony, taking the stage at the New Berlin West Performing Arts Center to perform the Bharatnatyam, a dance with roots in India that date back more than 2,000 years.

Spanning several hours, the dance was the culmination of 11 years of intensive study with Guru Kripa Baskaran, founder and director of the Natyarpana Dance Co. The recital, known as an Arangetram (ascending to the stage) signifies the first qualified dance of an aspiring artist.

"This is the culmination of the teacher-student relationship," says Lakshmi Bharadwaj, director of interfaith relations and community outreach at the Hindu Temple in Pewaukee. "After years of training, the guru decides to present her student before an elite audience."

About 600 guests — some of whom had traveled from India to attend the event — applauded Soumya and Divya as they danced to the live music of a five-piece orchestra from India.

There are two aspects to the performance. The concert demonstrates the dancers’ physical stamina and their ability to tell a story through movement. The 10 pieces in the program, some performed as solos and some together, each convey a story about various Hindu gods and goddesses.

Baskarn says the Bharatnatyam "is an epitome of Indian cultural expression. The richness of Indian architecture, sculpture, paintings, poetry, aesthetics and religious mythology constantly inspires the dance artist to create an exceptionally beautiful artwork in order to bring out the true cultural flavor of India."

Divya and Souma’s brilliantly colored costumes were custom-made in India, with the help of an aunt who lives there. Their makeup was done by artists who specialize in traditional dance makeup.

Baskaran says 32 students have graduated from her Natyarpana school at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin in the past 10 years, and several have been awarded scholarships from universities in recognition of their work. She also teaches a course in Bharatnatyam at UW-Milwaukee.

Divya is now a pre-med student at St. Louis University and Soumya is on the pre-med track at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Soumya says she plans to continue to dance and may follow in the footsteps of other Natyarpana school graduates and become a teacher of this classical Indian art form.

This story ran in the October 2013 issue of: