Dancing for freedom, and freedom for all: A closer look at Eyakkam Dance Co.

Dancing for freedom, and freedom for all: A closer look at Eyakkam Dance Co.

Dancing for freedom, and freedom for all: A closer look at Eyakkam Dance Co.
April 06
09:56 2018

On the night of April 4 in UNT’s Lyceum, two women danced a mystically captivating hour away, pulling the audience in to experience the powers of traditional Indian classical music and Bharatanatyam dance. The women are part of the Eyakkam Dance Company, a nonprofit Indian dance company based in Dallas, Texas.

The event was put on as part of The Mary Jo and V. Lane Rawlins Fine Arts Series. This year marks the series’ 114th season at UNT. Founder and Chairperson Dr. Prathiba Natesan, 38, is a three-time Indian national champion of Bharatanatyam and is also an associate professor of statistics at UNT.

“UNT is a great place to bring multicultural events,” Natesan said. “By bringing a slice of India, we hope to further broaden the perspective of students who may not be exposed to these genres of dance and music.”

The abundance of diversity among the audience was unignorable. There were many Indian people, some with their elderly parents and others with their small children. There were also a myriad of non-Indian people, all captivated by the dance unfolding in front of them.

Integrative studies senior, Loré Yessuff, was one of many UNT students in attendance.

“It was really eye-opening,” Yessuff said. “It was also challenging to watch because I’m not attuned to the cultural signals or cues of the dance. I’m interpreting all of those things through my Western lens of thinking, and I’m trying not to do that. It just makes me want to keep going to more cultural events.”

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Annapoorani Subramanian (left) and Prathiba Natesan (right) of the Eyakkam Dance Company perform “Ravana Nashana Kauthuvam (Release)” at the Lyceum for the UNT Fine Arts Series. “Ravana Nashana Kauthuvam (Release)” is an abstract of the Indian epic, Ramayana.
[Photos by Rachel Walters]

The Bharatanatyam dance is composed of four stories: the epic Ramayana, the transformation of an assassin into a foster-mother, the struggle of a victim of discrimination and a finale of complete surrender to the art of dance.

“The theme connecting the four stories is how dance is used as a medium to attain release from all bondage,” Natesan said.

Dancers Natesan and Annapoorani Subramanian took to the stage for the first and final dances with the second being performed as a solo dance by Natesan herself. Each dancer has more than 25 years of experience under her belt.

In vibrant costumes of red and pink, and glittering ornaments with shades of gold, Natesan and Subramanian transported the audience into the bustling vibrancy of life in a country on the other side of the world. There were no props — everything was done with the face, body and feet. Elaborate bells chimed with every movement of the feet.

Through their effortless movements of complex choreography, the years of practice they have and their level of mastery was apparent.

However, the point of dancing is not to achieve perfection.

“To dance means to overcome pain, to overcome knee, ankle and other bodily injuries,” Natesan said. “To dance means to overcome one’s ego and realize that the individual is a tiny speck before the vastness of art — to realize that dance can never be perfect. To dance means to surrender to this vastness of knowledge and ever-expanding myriad of human emotions and stories.”

These performative stories hold a great deal of significance, especially to the Indian community in North Texas.

Accompanied by her daughter, Nethra Ram Mohan, 40, came to show her support for the craft as she used to dance with the Eyakkam Dance Co.

“I just feel so elated listening to the music,” Mohan said. “It helps me feel rejuvenated.”

Chintan Patel, 25, who is of Indian heritage, came dressed in earth-toned Indian attire embroidered with elaborate patterns.

“The dance was very traditional, but also unique and innovative at the same time,” Patel said.

According to Natesan, the DFW metroplex is home to more than 120,000 Indians.

“This event is special to Indian people because it reflects the sensitivities they grew up with,” Natesan said. “[These are] stories of a son’s duties to his parents, a husband’s [duties] to his wife, a wife’s [duties] to her husband, a brother [and so on]. It’s also stories of how far we have come in terms of caste discrimination and the distance we have yet to cover.”

The caste discrimination is a harsh reality and an ongoing issue of the traditional societal system of India. The people belonging to the lowest caste cannot pollute the air or environment of the upper class with even just their presence. They are essentially shunned from society. These same stories, however, are open for interpretation for issues not just in Texas and the United States, but for all over the world.

“No society is immune to discrimination, but we can address this problem only by retelling these stories,” Nathan said. “We believe the time is now to tell stories from various parts of the world and show that underneath various skin colors and other distinctions, we are all the same — humans.”

Featured Image: Annapoorani Subramanian of the Eyakkam Dance Company performs “Nandan (Reach)” at the Lyceum for the UNT Fine Arts Series. Nandan tells the story of people ostracized for being in the lower caste of society. Rachel Walters

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Claire Lin

Claire Lin

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