Plano — Konjum Salangai (Enticing Anklets) 2.0, opened on Nov. 2 at the Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano with half an hour of Tamil music that set the stage for a dance event that was attended not by incidental audience members but by real fans of Tamil music, cinema, and dance. Konjum Salangai 2.0 was a production of the Eyakkam Dance Company, a small Plano-based group that practices and performs Bharatanatyam, one of the main styles of Indian classical dance. The event was a sequel to the sold-out Konjum Salangai 1.0 performed in February of this year.
The production got its name from the hit 1962 Tamil film that had Bharatanatyam as its central theme and featured several major Indian dancers of the day. As audience members learned at 2.0, Bharatanatyam was historically a dance of the court, reserved for members of the upper caste — a reputation that even shapes contemporary Texas audiences. Tamil cinema, on the other hand, came to be seen as entertainment for “the masses.” Despite these divergent reputations, Bharatanatyam, and dance in general, played a major role in earl Tamil cinema. Many dance scenes are still well known to fans today. Saturday’s production aimed to bring the two art forms back into contact once again. The pieces were set to music from Tamil films. The final piece even recreated one famous on-screen Bharatanatyam competition. In addition, Eyakkam leadership hopes that Konjum Salangai 2.0 will encourage broader audiences to attend Bharatanatyam performances and send the message that the dance form can be practiced and enjoyed outside the upper class.
The production featured choreography by company member (and University of North Texas statistics professor) Prathiba Natesan, whose dancing was also the most sparkling of the evening. Performances ranged in quality, but the choreography skillfully brought out the best characteristics of different dancers. Perhaps the most engaging elements of the choreography were the poses, briefly but meaningfully held and then broken, and the subsequent short pauses before the movement picked up again. Bharatanatyam is known for its expressive poses: Natesan’s choreography did the art form well.
The piece that best bridged cinema and dance was the final work of the evening, a recreation of the iconic dance competition between Vyjayanthimala and Padmini in the 1958 movie Vanjikkottai Valiban. The competition on Saturday was performed by Natesan and Lavanya Govindarajan, whose exciting dancing and considerable acting skills closed the evening on a high note.
During a set change, Natesan came on stage and conducted a pop quiz with audience members. After playing a few bars of a song, attendees were asked to identify the movie for which the song was composed. Only one song stumped the audience — evidence that most people were real fans of Tamil cinema. Despite this fact, I would have appreciated a bit more clarification about the history of Tamil cinema and its relationship to Bharatanatyam, if only because additional context might help further Eyakkam’s goal of expanding the audience for their dance form.
The company should be commended for creating another family-friendly dance experience. While not all dance productions can easily appeal to a young audience, classical Indian companies in the DFW area have proved themselves committed to educating children about dance and about classical Indian movement in particular. On Saturday, young audience members were among the most animated. One boy had other attendees laughing happily when he repeatedly expressed his enthusiasm for Prasanna Jeer, the evening’s only male performer. Let’s hope that this is a sign that the effort to expand Bharatanatyam to new audiences is succeeding.