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Stories Through Dance at the Museum of Fine Arts

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Stories Through Dance at the Museum of Fine Arts

A Diwali celebration at the MFA

Tyler Chin

11.6.17

People young and old gathered at the Shapiro Family Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts Wednesday night for a celebration of light, life, and art. As part of the festivities, members of the Chhandika Dance Ensemble put on a performance to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, through dance.

Diwali is a major Indian holiday that is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. Festivities last five days with the third day being the main celebration of the holiday. Diwali, which translates to rows of lights because homes are adorned with candles and decorative lights, is the start of a new financial year for Indian businesses. Hence, the first day of Diwali is dedicated to worshipping the goddess of prosperity. The start date of Diwali changes every year depending on the Hindu lunar calendar. This year, Diwali started on Oct. 17 and ended on Oct. 21.

The Museum of Fine Arts hosted its own Diwali celebration with interactive exhibits, guided tours, and live performances. The museum drew families, students, and individuals to a night of enjoying the arts free of charge. Pallavi Murugkar, Shonool Malik, and Dipti Sadalge represented Chhandika Dance Ensemble by performing Kathak, one of the major classical Indian dance forms. For a half hour, the trio introduced, explained and performed Kathak.

Kathak dance is a form of storytelling. Through rhythmic footwork, intricate hand gestures, and expressive facial movements, Kathak dancers tell the stories of Hindu legends and Indian history. To begin their performance, the three dancers started with the Rang Munch, or color the stage, dance. Malik said the purpose of the dance is to figuratively color the stage and to awaken the senses. Accompanied by a soundtrack of upbeat Indian music, the dancers set the stage for a cheerful performance.


Following the Rang Munch, Murugkar explained the mathematical component behind Kathak dancing, which the dancers keep in time by utilizing five-pound bells on both ankles. While western music uses a linear music scale, Murugkar said Kathak music uses a cyclical music scale. To demonstrate the difficulty of keeping in time with the beat, as well as having the stamina to move around with an additional 10 pounds on their legs, the dancers counted the number of steps they could squeeze in to a 16 beat scale.

After the dancers' fancy footwork, Malik explained the storytelling aspect of Kathak dancing by introducing the story of the deity Krishna and the serpent Kaliya. As a boy, Krishna had a ball that he lost in the river where Kaliya lived. To retrieve the ball, Krishna fought the poisonous serpent to successfully win back his ball.

"As a child [storytelling] was my favorite part, and I still am stuck with it," Malik said. "I have two boys who love me to tell the story, and this is their favorite story as well."


As part of the dance, Malik said the dancers take on the roles of all the characters in the story. The resulting performance was a dance that told the story of courage and perseverance through visuals and music, rather than dialogue.


To end the half-hour performance, the dancers invited members of the audience, mainly young children, to take part in the storytelling. As parents took photos of their children, it was clear that you are never too old for story time.