Murwillambah Festival Welcomes Kuchipudi

The Unity Festival, Murwillumbah NSW – 2 October 2010 – by Aruna Iyengar

The Unity Festival is a colourful blend of the diverse cultural influences from the Tweed and Byron Shires, infused to create an exciting family event, and held in Murwillumbah in Northern NSW.

Featuring four areas for audiences to choose from – The Echo Main Stage, The Country Energy Dance Stage, the Earth Embassy Tent and the Kids Korner, it promised to offer something for all ages and interests.

The weather was a major downer for the organisers, as the skies opened all day on Saturday, requiring the Dance Stage to be relocated from the open grass area previously ear marked, to a under cover pavilion with a dirt and mulch floor. Keen to make the best of a bad situation, the organisers had a tractor clear the area and flatten the floor, and covered the “dance stage” with a large tarpulan to enable the dancers to perform.

Kuchipudi Dancer Aruna Iyengar, of the Shakthi School of Indian Dance, was invited by her friend and former student, Gopali Nissen to come and perform at the festival. Gopali has studied under both Aruna and at the Kuchipudi Art Academy in India.

The dancers presented 40 minutes of Kuchipudi to the audience, the few who were brave and dedicated to venture out and support the artists in the very wet weather. The Kuchipudi performance featured Gajavadhana Beduve in praise of Lord Ganesh, a composition of Purandara Dasa in Hamsadhwani; a fast moving Dasavataram Sabdam, a very old and classic Kuchipudi composition in Mohanam; and Brindavana Nilaye, a composition of Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer, depicting Radha and Krishna in Brindavan. All items were choreographed by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam of the Kuchipudi Art Academy of Chennai.

The audience were enthralled by the fast footwork, the captivating bhavam and graceful movements that are so typical of Kuchipudi. In a community that has a large number of Hare Krishna devotees but few Indians, there was a lovely connection with the audience and a sentiment expressed afterwards of really having enjoyed the performance.  It was a revelation to this dancer to see a non Indian audience so familiar with the stories of the Dasavataram and the stories of our Hindu Deities.

The diversity of this area was evident with the Kuchipudi performance being followed by Torres Strait Island dancers, Odissi Dancers from the Govardhana College, Indonesian dancers, Bhangra and Gidha and Aborginal dancers. The other stages presented varied types of music; workshops on dance, yoga and sacred ceremonies of Indigenous arts; and fun for the kids with traditional face painting and games.

It is hoped that the organisers will have the ability to bring in even more diversity in coming years, and that the interest in the Kuchipudi performance will result in more eager students joining this art (which is taught locally by Gopali). If only the weather would co-operate in the future!