Past Forward


An Intriguing, Superbly Choreographed and Vibrantly Presented Bharatanatyam Dance Performance in the Chicago area

November 15, 2015--  Aptly described as “one of the most dynamic and technically brilliant dancers of India,” acclaimed Bharatanatyam danseuse, Leela Samson, took to the stage in the Chicago area to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her celebrated dance troupe, Spanda Dance Company, in a compilation of works titled “Past Forward.”  The innovative dance program first appeared on the group’s North American tour in Washington, D.C., to rave reviews, and had its Chicago presentation this past weekend at Oswego East High School in Oswego, IL, sponsored by Nrithyanjali School of Dance.

Past Forward, the brainchild of Ms. Samson, was nothing short of sensational.  It featured several critically-acclaimed works by this award-winning Chennai-based artist, and showed Spanda dancers brilliantly exploring new geometrical and spiritual parameters within the dance tradition.  A retrospective of Spanda Dance Company, the program included a significant body of new highly-creative work that explored “an inward journey, experienced through the body of the individual and expressed through the group collective.”

“In group and solo expression, the individual need for introspection, searching for the presence of something greater leads to better understanding of oneself and the role in a group.  The journey leads to a celebration of music and movement, which causes the individual soul to unite with the Brahman. Music truly is the food of love,” Ms. Samson explains.

Ms. Samson is a dance virtuoso known throughout the world for her performing, teaching, choreography and writing on dance subjects.  She has been teaching dance for many years to eager students from all over the world and from various ethnic backgrounds who have then gone on to become accomplished performing artists and teachers. 

Oswego East High School Performing Arts Center was an ideal setting to exhibit the strength, flexibility and expressiveness of Ms. Samson and her Spanda dancers, who were dressed in uniquely designed, gorgeous colored silk and cotton costumes with pleated red edgings, flowers, jeweled ornaments, and percussion-style bells adorning their feet. 

The group’s energy, seemingly effortless and highly athletic movements, and brilliant dramatic display of inner feelings clearly captivated the large Midwest audience that night.  All of their individual and group performances yielded rounds of applause for their precise and beautiful movements, range of expressiveness, incredible energy, exquisite partnering and their obvious love of Bharatanatyam classical dance and its innovations.  Shifting from symmetrical to asymmetrical patterns at times, the enchanting Spanda Dance Company members included Bhavajan Kumar, SaiSanthosh Radhakrishnan, Aditi Jaitly Jadeja, Bilva Raman, Christopher Gurusamy, Satyapriya Mohan Iyer, Harikrishnan B, Ashwini Viswanathan, and of course, the lovely Ms. Samson. 

Ms. Samson opened the two-hour long recital with a meditative and devotional item, Adi Shankara’s “Kalaabhairav Ashtakam” in ragam Hamsadhwani that displayed the beauty and fluidity in her dance.  In a unique group dance called “Aakash,” Spanda dancers poignantly discovered how space relates to them individually and as a group through the use of shlokas from the Vedas which describe the relationship of the human form to the universe.  With swirling movements of the torsos and bodies, Spanda dancers joyfully discovered, explored, and celebrated space. The program grew even more extraordinary that evening when Ms. Samson performed an “Ashtapadi” set to raga Hemant and composed by classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj.  The audience got a glimpse of the abhinaya excellence, in the story of Sakhi, where she persuaded Radha to shed her pride and go and meet Krishna.  The aesthetic wisdom of Ms. Samson and her imagination was also vividly portrayed in “Atishaya,” a wondrous feat, where Spanda dancers did incredible movements and expressions to tell the story of a powerful Krishna defeating Kalinga and dancing on his hood. This was followed by “Sthayi Sanchar,” on the descent of Ganga.  The story is about how Bhagirathi’s kingdom suffers from drought.  After making his plea to the heavens, the skies open, and thunder, lightning and rain follow.  With all her arrogance, Ganga begins her descent.  Shiva intervenes and captures her in his matted hair, while slowly subduing her ego. Battling, they fall in love.  In the captivating final part depicted at Varanasi, Spanda dancers end the item carrying lit lamps. In Swaranjali, an exciting thillana in raga Purvi, Ms. Samson’s prodigious skills as a choreographer shine as the energy of the dancers are powerfully released.

The consummate performing artist, Ms. Samson is unostentatious, serene, philosophical, and joyful.  A beloved and respected teacher, she has rightly earned recognition as one of the finest Bharatanatyam classical dancers in the world today.  In addition, Ms. Samson has been the subject of two documentaries, “Sanchari” and “The Flowering Tree,” as well as the author of several articles and two books, “Rhythm in Joy” (1987) and “Rukmini Devi: A Life” (2010).   She is also the recipient of many accolades, including the titles “Padmashri,” “Kalaimamani,” and the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sanskriti and Natya Kala Acharya awards. 

A leading Bharatanatyam dance organization in the Midwest, Nrithyanjali School of Dance and its Artistic Director, Sushmita Arunkumar, remain committed to promoting and propagating this exquisite art form with great authenticity and traditionalism to Kalakshetra values, while also exploring a range of new, innovative works.  Mrs. Arunkumar said it was a great pleasure and privilege to be able to bring outstanding guest artists, like Leela Samson and Spanda Dance Company, to the Chicago area to enrich the diverse performing arts offerings here and to share the unparalleled beauty of Bharatanatyam classical dance with U.S. audiences. 

For more information, contact Nrithyanjali at www.nrithyanjali.com, 630-759-0253.


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