Painted feet slap the stage, fingers curl smoke-like around air, eyes balloon and rise with the audience; the Indian ballet begins. However, this ballet contains no plie arched by a pink tutu, no sugarplum fairy, no synchronous pirouetting. Called kuchipudi, this ancient form originating in southern India will be dancing its way into the Cain Cochran Auditorium at Hinds Community College on June 26.
"Dance symbolizes the movement of everything in this world," explains Sheela Takkallapalli, project director of the event. This philosophical premise guides any classical Indian dance performance, and in this case, "Rukmini Kalyanam," the title of the performance slated for Cain Cochran Auditorium. Literally meaning "the wedding of Rukmini," the dance-drama draws upon ancient Indian mythology to depict the story of Rukmini, a princess who defies her family in order to marry her true love, a seemingly commonplace cowherd named Krishna. In actuality, Krishna is a divine being, an immortal among humans, and Rukmini becomes enamored with him. In a dramatic conclusion, Krishna appears in a chariot, ready to sweep his beloved off her feet.
Simply put, "Rukmini Kalyanam" is a love story, an expression of a universal virtue and its power above all else. What makes this performance so special is the color and costumes that accompany it. A kuchipudi performance becomes a spectacular panoply of bejeweled hair and shimmering golden pleats. Furthermore, translated song and live instrumentals enhance the performance.
Distinguished kuchipudi dancer Sasikala Penumarthi and her troupe will perform this particular recital of "Rukmini Kalyanam," supported by a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Penumarthi founded the Academy of Kuchipudi Dance in Atlanta in 1997 and works closely with the Georgia Arts Council, hoping to bring the art of kuchipudi to audiences all over. Takkallapalli laments that most people aren't aware of what a "rare opportunity" it is to be able to witness the work of a kuchipudi icon who has toured all over India, the United States, Europe and even the Soviet Union before its collapse. The last time Penumarthi and her troupe performed in Jackson was in 2001, at Thalia Mara Hall.
Penumarthi's performance of Rukmini Kalyanam will feature many of the nuances that typify kuchipudi, including the introduction of the main character—always a woman at the beginning of the performance, a tradition throughout the history of the dance. Another quirk will involve a dance within a dance, during a scene portraying a court dance, borderline erotic, for the royal court. The performance will also feature several scenes that should prove to be visually stunning, such as Rukmini's bedecking for her wedding.
The show starts at 6 PM. For more information or to purchase tickets, call Sheela Takkallapalli at 853-9638.