Since its inception in 2003, Michigan Sahana has brought the diversity and complexity intrinsic to the classical traditions of Indian music and dance to Ann Arbor. Focusing on appreciation and performance, Sahana is holding its spring concert, “Swaranjali,” comprised of four classical dances and five classical ensembles that showcase the extensive performance art of India.

Swaranjali: A Night of Music and Dance

Tonight at 7 p.m.

“In classical (Indian) music, there are two very distinct styles,” said Business junior Vish Srivastava, co-president of Sahana. “There is the northern style, Hindustani, and the southern style, Carnatic. Whereas Hindustani music has become heavily influenced by Western styles, the Carnatic traditions remain unchanged for centuries.”

Srivastava explained how this division makes it quite difficult to find common ground between the styles, and most pieces filter into one of the two types. Yet, Srivastava clarified that there are underlying traditions that unite them as “classical.”

“In all classical Indian music, there are three main concepts: Tala, which is rhythm, Raga, which is melody, and Bhava, which is the overlying emotion of a piece,” Srivastava said. “The three define the way all music functions, so any particular song is associated with a particular emotion and it becomes the responsibility of the musician to bring that emotion forward to the audience.”

The opening piece, “Alaipayuthey,” is a Carnatic Kriti: a southern style, often in three parts, that tells a narration through changing refrains. In the piece, the composer imagines himself as Lord Krishna’s lover, unable to stop thinking about Lord Krishna as he melodiously plays the flute, expained Engineering senior Nikila Ravi, co-president of Michigan Sahana.

“The piece is blissful and happy, as Krishna fills his lover’s heart with joy,” Ravi said. “And this is reflected in the Tala Adi, which is the quickest Carnatic tempo, and in the Raga Kanada, which has a lighter melody.”

After the opener, the concert introduces dance, the other art form performed by Sahana. There are over eight distinct forms of dance still widely performed in India today. Sahana will present dances from the Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi and Bharatanatyam styles. But even with these forms, all classical dances share a single point of departure, Ravi explained.

“Classical dance is based on rules,” Ravi said. “Each style is derived from the Natyashastra, which is a book detailing all the guidelines and different aspects of dance. For example, there is Pallavi, which is the purest form of the dance like the steps and footwork, and there is also Abhinaya, which is expression and how the dance narrates its story.”

Ravi also explained that there are distinct subsets of Abhinaya, like Vachika Abhinaya in the Andhra Pradesh dance form Kuchipudi. Vachika Abhinaya is spoken narration by the dancers and these lines make the dance into an almost play-like drama. This facet of the Kuchipudi style can be seen in the performance’s second piece, “Jugalbandi.”

“A Jugalbandi is a piece that shows two different classical forms, either music or dance, and in this concert we’re doing Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam,” Ravi said. “Both are popular, southern Indian dances that really demonstrate the intricacies of the forms.”

Another element of the show will be the third piece, “Shivae Shivae Mallari,” which is a Bharatnatyam dance backed by classical Indian music. This piece showcases the most authentic classical experience where dancer meets musician with collaborative energy, explained Srivastava.

“What is really cool about Indian music and dance is that there is a huge element of improvisation that is built into every classical structure,” Srivastava said. “The piece is literally created together onstage during a performance, and you can get a group of classical artists who have never collaborated before and give them only a scale and rhythm to work within and they will create a whole performance.”

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