This blog was contributed by Mahalakshmi Ramanathan.
Baala - The tale of Kanha, the brainchild of Vidhushi Megha P Rao, a 90-minute dance drama that recently won a grant from Artists 3 60 - A program of mid-America arts alliance, successfully brought forth the talents of her students in an exciting and spectacular venture in their 5th annual fall production held at Bentonville West High. This event was also logistically supported by the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation. The mayor of Bentonville, Stephanie Orman, and the Superintendent of Bentonville Public Schools, Debbie Jones, were special guests to the event and spoke about the importance of such events in our community and the contributions of the Indian community, in particular.
The pace of the evening was established on a high note as the curtains rose and Megha’s senior students displayed their strength and stamina with precise, intricate footwork dancing through complex rhythms and melodies brilliantly executing every move. As the story unfolded from the birth of Krishna to the festivities at Gokul, demise of Pootana, mischievous Krishna who shows the entire universe in his mouth, students across varied ages, moving in and of out character flawlessly, portrayed the majestic conqueror of the hearts of people of Gokul. The youngest performers of the night performed the Krishna leela with much gusto. In all honesty, such young children dancing on stage are usually mere caricatures, endearing only to the parents. Megha’s students were an exception as they performed effortlessly with precision. Each item was carefully chosen, crafted and tailored to suit the age of the dancer.
The choreography of “Maadu meikkum kanne” composed by Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer set in Sahana - a playful prelude between Krishna and his mother Yashoda characterized beautifully by Megha Chander and Matangi Arun merits special mention showing the immeasurable blessing of the joys of rearing the creator of the universe.
Whilst there were familiar numbers like “Thaye Yashoda” and “Maadu meikkum kanne” , the moment “taam dheem tarana taam” hit the speakers, a flurry of joy rose in the audience. The night matured into brilliance with another Oothukadu Venkata Subbiyer’s composition in the form of Kalinga Narthana thillana - The conquering of the poisonous snake Kaliya with Megha Chander playing Krishna and Jyothika Arunkumar, the serpent. The dancers captured each nuance together with their intricate footwork, astounding choreography with sculpturesque poses and a combination of strength and grace in nritta and the intense yet subtle and effortless flow of abhinaya was a beauty etched in the brain. There was a sense of conviction and dominance that was depicted in the sudden and arresting pause the dancers provided after a swift sequence of movements, an approach carpeted throughout the performance in various places done to perfect rhythm gave the impression of mastery of the artform. The final portion of the night was the defeat of Kamsa. Megha Chander playing Krishna and Medhansh Sankaran playing Kamsa locked in the final battle evoked the veera rasa in the audience without which the presentation would have been soulless. From the synchrony in the footwork and hand gestures to the dexterity in utilization of the stage was exemplary of Megha P Rao’s skill of using her choreography skills to the best result.
The commendable aspect of this production was, it came together in all aspects - the precision and coordination in dance, the descriptive introduction and the accompanying music. It was a homage to the enjoyment one experiences when the different aspects of a performance come together without forcing the audience to separate these aspects in order to look for a saving grace. Baala - the tale of Kanha, an oxymoronic substratum of losing oneself to finding oneself.
Contributed by Nandhini Varadaraj, President, RVCF
After a gap of two years, RVCF is back to hosting their community showcases Natyam & Sapthaswara live. I attended both these events recently (December 2021) as a host, MC, parent of a performer and as someone interested in the classical performing arts.
I first attended the Natyam & Sapthaswara in December 2019 as a parent and since then have been seeing the quality of performances improve greatly. The December 2021 event also saw Odissi performers for the first time in Natyam and a Dhrupad singer (Hindustani) for the very first time in Bentonville.
The community showcases are just that. It’s open for Ra - Ve members to perform and free for anyone to attend. One of the ways the Indian immigrant population keeps in touch with our roots is through learning these classical art forms and Bentonville thankfully has its more than fair share of teachers imparting these lessons.
Natyam and Sapthaswara are platforms for these students (kids and adults) where they can gain experience in performing to a small group. Although it is informal, Ra-Ve does encourage the performers to prepare by submitting their pieces and duration ahead. The audio / video, performance space and lighting are all arranged in a way that the artists gain a fairly true experience of a concert. Mistakes are allowed and encouraged so the student artists can learn from and gain confidence in their art.
Just as important it is to provide the space for the performers, it is important for the society to step up to support and motivate these artists. It was heartwarming to see every seat occupied and extra seating provided on the floor for the audience members.
I’ve been personally involved in organizing Sargam, another classical event between 2009 & 2016. It is inspiring to see how far some of the children have come since then. We are seeing the students who started their performance at Sargam unable to hold ‘araimandi’ or maintain the pitch, do spontaneous improvisations, manage rhythm and enthrall us with their foot work and expressions.
It’s a déjà vu moment to see the next generation of artists begin their journey at Natyam & Sapthaswara. I am looking forward to seeing these students grow into their own and pave the way for coming generations. It is a matter of handing over the baton and as adults of this thriving community, it is our duty to give them the space and support.
As with any live streamed event, we did run into technical delays and other mishaps, but nothing unmanageable and we are also learning through our mistakes.
It is ultimately the students, teachers and parents who drive this initiative. I hope this tribe grows and Ra-Ve is forced to increase the time allotted & move to a bigger space to accommodate many more in the audience.
Contributed by Sreeja Madathaykandy
An evening well spent at Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts, Bentonville, AR, understanding and enjoying a unique traditional dance form, ODISSI from the east coast of India.
Adrija Datta and her students showcased this old classical dance form with geometrical movement patterns and beautiful intricate expressions matched to rhythmic beats and sensuous music. A notable element of her presentation was the garlanded flowers, silver jewelry and costume, which were simple, elegant, and easy to wear, representing the era and culture at the same time ensuring that dance remains the focus.
Thanks to KIFA for creating an appropriate atmosphere in the studio with the resources, the audience could immerse into the action.
The head, torso and lower body movements fascinated me with each part moving in opposition to the one above making it so attractive. The interactive session and explaining the mudras and torso moments and the terms used, such as chauka, tribhangha made it informative and interesting.
Thank you Adrija Dutta for the dedication and passion in teaching this graceful dance form to the kids in our community and students for showing the interest and working on it. It was a wonderful performance.
Sidhartha Sridhar for RVCF
My father and I were indeed lucky to be part of a spellbinding concert called Samay. Words cannot describe the scintillating melody created by the flute sisters accompanied by the Tabla and the Pakhawaj. True to tradition, the performance started with a mellow aalap, slowly introducing the raga. This slowly built into a brisk paced jod accompanied by the Pakhawaj akin to the ancient and immortal Dhrupad style of Hindustani classical music. The jod, made way to the composition a beautiful melody composed by Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia accompanied by the tabla. The sisters took turns in improvising the composition, showing different shades of the raag with each improvisation.
This wonderful opportunity to hear an Indian music concert in Northwest Arkansas was provided by the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation. The concert provided a platform for the musically inclined population of NWA to meet and interact with each other and soak in musical bliss. To sum it up, it was a well spent evening with beautiful music in the company of some extremely warm people. Will love to be back for more.
Article by Maruthachelvi Kothandaraman for RVCF
KIFA or Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts had its official Grand opening on July 30th, 2021 with the ribbon cutting by Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce team and Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation team.
Then followed the 2 days of cultural extravaganza. Like any Indian party, there were flowers, colours, aroma of spices, traditional games & attire, music and dance – to capture all these memories we had cameras and photo booths! It was nothing less than a grand Indian party but exponentially fun and grand. Anyone who entered couldn’t miss the beautiful photo booth and by its side the lovely line of traditional colorful Indian clothing by Sthri Couture. One was welcomed in the Indian way with strands of fragrant Indian jasmine. That took me back to childhood memories of adorning my hair with flowers every evening.
The first day opened with Prerna – “KIFA Student & Teacher Showcase “. All the young talents that are nurtured under the KIFA programs were busy flexing those skills. Following that we had a Diversity Circle, where artists from different parts of the world like Ibiyinka Alao, Lia Uribe and Megha Rao engaged the audience with their message of bringing the world together. RVCF President, Srividya Venkastasubramanya, announced the organization’s commitment to support at least one fully funded artistic collaboration between cultures.
We then had Tabla and Vocal Workshop where we had our KIFA experts Shiv Kotagal & Vijayashree Vittal teach new students who wanted to try out these new classes. We then had Story telling Time, where people sat together and shared stories of different cultures and the importance of being exposed to people from different backgrounds. While the hall was busy with various activities, one was suddenly surprised by the aroma of delicious food from the other side of the hall. It was our Indian Cooking class held by our local food fanatic Maruthachelvi. K. With all kinds of spices filling the air, students of all ages and backgrounds learnt some Indian delicacies and enjoyed a full platter later on. Our spices were sponsored by Desi Bazaar.
There was a short break with delicious food from Abby Sweets. To burn some calories after that, we had Viriiya – Dance by our instructor Megha P Rao & Viriiya - / Yoga by our instructor Nandhini Varadaraj. Following this we had Community Sapthaswara where our members performed and entertained the audience. To wrap up this awesome first day line of events we had the star light on a replay of our 2020 Master concert, Black and White. Our audience enjoyed this show with their dinner food boxes from Punjabi Kitchen.
The second day of celebration started with Violin, Theater and Kathak Workshop by Kartik Balachandran, Trike theatre and Radha Varadan respectively. This was followed by fun Indian Traditional Games where everyone, especially adults had an opportunity to relive their childhood. In a world of GTA and NFS, these much forgotten sensory ancient games were brought in to introduce to the next generation. Some of our traditional games like Paramapadham (Snakes & Ladders), Pallanguzhi (Mancala), and many other board games including chess, were introduced by our youth volunteers. Everyone was found to be laughing and enjoying their off screen gaming experience. After this fun hour , we had another replay on the big screen of our 2020 Professional Series performance – Ardhanaree, by Megha P. Rao and her student, Matangi Arun. Following this we had a House Concert - Tabla/Mridangam by Ashwin Mistry and Santhosh Ramaswamy respectively. As always, their live show had everyone tapping their foot. Ashwin and Santhosh spoke to the audience on the similarities of talams in the two styles of Indian Classical Music - carnatic and hindustani. What's a celebration without some dance. The next event was Natyam, our community dance showcase – where members got to perform their well rehearsed dance routines for the audience.
To wrap up the event, the final and last show was on the big screen - a replay of our 2020 Master Folk Concert, Yakshagana. Towards the end of the video, one got to see the behind-the-screen work of the artists, their make-up hours and heavy costume preparations was mind blowing. It was awe inspiring to watch how much effort went into the performance and how very little they are appreciated in comparison. If I had to perform in those costumes, forget about remembering/reciting my lines - I would for sure collapse in that heat with the heavy costume on. These artists deserve so much of our respect for their time and work. They are truly a blessing for Indian arts. We wrapped up the event with our dinner boxes from Spice Shuttle and greeted everyone and took leave for the day.
Thus the 2 days of extravaganza came to an end with a fulfilling experience to take home with us. This isn’t the end but just the beginning . We will be filling this space with more stories and more art forms and more guests. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to be up to date on what's happening with Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation and Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts.
See you at our next event!
On May 16th, Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation conducted its second House Concert of the year to its members. This event is free for RVCF members and showcases details of Indian art forms to educate the patrons and fans. The event was honored by the presence of Nigerian American United Nations Ambassador for Art, Ibiyinka “Ibi” Alao who is currently in the NWA region (special thanks to Karen Wagaman at the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce and Orson Weems at Al Bell Presents) promoting his work.
Vidushi Megha P. Rao, presented what a Bharatanatyam margam used to look like a few years ago. For those of you wondering what the word "Vidushi" means, it is a title given to artists in India for achieving a certain level of learning and quality in their art form. A bharatanatyam margam is an organized way in which the dancer brings about a certain experience for the audience. Traditional margams started and ended in certain ways. Today, more dancers are experimenting with different orders of dancing to suit different audiences.
One of the first pieces presented in a traditional margam is an alaripu, meaning a collection of flowers. It is the first piece that a student learns where he/she puts together the basic steps or adavus that he/she has learned so far. The recites the steps in the typical syllables of the adavus set to a certain rhythmic pattern. Rao presented a "mayil" alaripu or peacock alaripu. Her ability to imitate the movements of a peacock were greatly commendable and made the audience want to imitate her. After all, what is more graceful and free than a peacock!
The highlight of the event was the Paambaattam or snake dance that Rao danced with an audio of the song sung by herself. All those attending were spellbound by her ability and the sheer variety of movements and expressions that she presented during the whole show. That students of dance were watching and absorbing these nuances sealed the success of the afternoon. Exposure to new ideas and arts is the essence of childhood. As Pablo Picasso very famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Join the fun and enjoy these events with your children. Thank you to all our individual members and donors for their constant support. We couldn't do it without our grant from the Walton Family Foundation and their support of the arts through various programs and initiatives in our region. Thank you!
By Maruthachelvi K.
Fireflies and Ibi
One of Ibi’s most famous paintings is the Story of the Firefly, created in 2006 . Being someone who loves to paint I was curious how Mr.Ibi had interest in fireflies rather than the convenient butterfly which would have been very captivating and much easier to make on a canvas.
Mr.Ibi answered - "It is just about how you are growing up, where you are . It depends on where one's comportment is.” For children in his town, it was very interesting to catch fireflies. A lot of African skies, especially Nigerian skies are sufficiently dark. “I see many children are fascinated by the idea of looking up at the beauty of the night sky. That was some kind of entertainment for us. Can you imagine if you didn't have electricity? No TV nor electronic devices. How are you going to entertain yourself? So you look for the appearance of light in the deep dark sky and the starlight is warm, and also the firefly's light. Many of us as children would run out and catch them. Especially this adds sweetness to the evening after we hear stories from parents or grandparents. I also love to catch butterflies on a rainy evening and in this painting too you can see butterflies.
In 2016, this painting's story was published by Scholastic after it won that year's gold prize in their Kids are Authors writing contest. The book was written and illustrated by third grade students of Willow Lane elementary school in Macungie, Pennsylvania. We also have a movie of Ibi’s fireflies . In 2019, Ibi completed a live action and animated movie about this story. This movie, simply called “MY FIREFLIES” opened on April 20 and is currently being shown at some film festivals.
Ibi has also created a musical based on the firefly that relates an incident with his hero, his only hero, his father. He wrote most of the songs for his movie's soundtrack. "Fireflies" was the last song he wrote for it. It was published by I-Tunes, Spotify and other major music streaming sites on October 8, 2019. The story narrates how one evening, Ibi was accompanying his dad (who has served as Mayor of their city) during his visit to the village to meet people. During their drive back home on this specific night, like any child fascinated by fireflies, little Ibi said in an elated tone “Daddy look! Fireflies.” It was just an expression of his excitement but to his surprise his dad, a busy man, stopped and backed up the car to where they had seen the fireflies. To an already surprised little Ibi, his dad opened the trunk and pulled out a glass jar, which he had no clue how and why it was there. Then his dad took Ibi and went into the bushes to catch the fireflies for him.
This specific incident stays like a fresh memory for Ibi as he narrates it again. It is quite clear why this evening and line of events sparked the development of a significant masterpiece that is busy travelling across the world now. The very busy mayor, Ibi’s father, took that moment to hear his child and pay attention to what the child was experiencing and live the moment with the child. In a busy world, a lot of busy parents now have less and less time to hear what their child has to say. Something as simple as excitement for a firefly was not ignored then by Mr. Ibi's father, which has created a strong memorable impact - the feeling of being important when least expected. How fascinating, isn't it? I struggled to hold the tears that welled up in my eyes. It touched my heart and I thank Mr. Ibi's father for not disregarding his child's feelings and driving past the fireflies.
The story doesn’t stop here though. What comes next is proof of why it is important to spend time with children. When ibi was looking at the fireflies and enjoying the moment, his father said, "Ok now it's time to let them go Iyinka” (that's how fondly he was called by his dad).
Ibi was surprised that he had to release the fireflies. Little Ibi's face frowned upon hearing this and he tried to hold the jar as close as he could to his heart. His father said, " Iyinka, would you rather prison those fireflies and have an empty sky or would you release them now to go high into the constellation and become your night stars?"
This thought of seeing a clear black sky shook little Ibi and made him realise that the right thing to do was to release the fireflies for he loved looking at the night sky with all the sparkle. He immediately looked at the sky and then back at his fireflies in the jar, saw no big difference since both were twinkling and decided that the right thing to do was to release them. He realized that the small things that they were would become big if he released them, not being greedy to possess them for himself.
In Ibi's words, “The moral of this story is that If I love anything or anyone as much as I love those fireflies, the best thing to do is let that thing or person be free. Let them go and they would become something so much better. Let's not love to the extent that we damage the fabric of that love by not letting them be the best version of themselves.” As a parent, I should let my child be free so that one day he would become a star and not be restricted to being a firefly. It is now evident why this painting's story was published by Scholastic after it won that year's gold prize in their Kids are authors writing contest, in 2016.
A 10 minute incident has impacted Mr. Ibi to speak about such a deep philosophy and the power of letting go. He also sees this as a way to see the bigger picture of something small that you hold today. Never underestimate even the smallest of work done by someone is what he preaches to the big corporations. With the firefly artwork he beautifully explains this philosophy and connects with all age groups, from small children to huge corporations.
As always, Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance put together an amazing show highlighting the stories from Ibi's paintings and also a grand finale at the end of the event. The students showcased their talents to a variety of music and contexts highlighting their training at the school. Artistic Director, Megha P. Rao's efforts were appreciated by Ibi with much awe and respect for her expertise. Lakshmiamulya and Ashwin helped with the narration of Ibi's stories and with conducting the event. Shreya and Matangi helped with supplies and snacks for all the events in the series.
The last and final show is on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021 at 6pm with a special performance by Trike Theater. Event is free but registration required. Don't miss this chance to see the painting and meet Ibi.
By Maruthachelvi K.
This being my first experience in an interview asking questions, I was quite excited and nervous. I did my little homework about Mr. Ibiyinka Alao, an artist, ambassador, filmmaker who went to navy school but studied architecture based on advice of his Commandant. He later became an architect and author who won first place in a United Nations International Art Competition amongst 61 countries in 2001. His paintings are primarily about redemption, peace and love. Along with John Lennon, Alicia Keys and 2 other artists, he is noted among 5 Artists Who Have Spread Messages of Peace Around the World by Global Citizen.
I had to share a joke with Mr. Ibi to give him an insight on what made me nervous (but now absolutely comfortable) about his interview. Once a reporter was trying to interview an artist and he got a response to the email after almost 3 years saying " I am now ready for your interview". The artist had been that involved with his masterpiece and got engulfed in his own world , disconnecting from the rest of the world. I was so thankful that I could catch a hold of Mr.Ibi right away - through his very convenient calendar system that helped me block an available time for this interview. Ibi had a hearty laugh and told me that it was amusing to learn about this.
We connected on Zoom and the first thing I noticed was his very calm and happy face. This was followed by a constant kind and pleasant tone of voice. No wonder that he is a Peace Ambassador with the United Nations. What I gathered about Mr.Ibiyinka's name is that Nigerians also have names with significant meaning similar to my own Indian culture. His name means - "to be surrounded by family" . A world traveller that he is now, he is living up to his parents' expectations. He has a big family all over the world - touching hearts of many and creating impact through his paintings and insights.
My first question was: " What made you start painting?"
Mr. Ibiyinka responded with possibly more than one reason but he strongly felt that when he was a little child he started drawing and painting spontaneously . He enjoyed it whenever he created art. However, a stronger reason was as a middle schooler, he was very shy to speak to others and one of his teachers encouraged him to use art and start painting when he had difficulty communicating his thoughts. So he found more comfort in painting than speaking. He could tell stories more comfortably through his art. Ibi says this could be one of the many possible causes that made him become an artist. His melancholy is a major reason for how he started making some amazing art.
Our conversation then moved on to food. He made it very clear that he loves food . He mentioned that every artist thinks and executes in unique ways but his way is as much about food as it is about painting. Whenever he gets hungry he has to take a break to help himself fulfill his hunger. He possibly couldn't get that lost while creating his art without also giving some attention to his personal needs.
There are two more events with Ibi at Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts on June 19th and June 23rd. Click here to register. Our first event was on June 12th with the energetic and amazing Afrique Aya group of drummers and dancers. Click here to learn more about them. Our next two events will feature Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance and Trike Theatre. Don't miss this experience!
Bentonville residents were in for an amazing treat this past April when Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation presented Kumar Sharma and his group, the Kathak Rockers on a large screen at their location. They screened the video, specially created for RVCF, on a large screen with huge speakers and created an immersive experience that was so worth it. People who preferred to watch from the comfort of their homes were also able to watch it on a Zoom share.
I was brought up by a pair of amazing parents. Two individuals who believed in a world that was just and right, who believed that speaking the truth was far more important than being nice, who brought us children up to speak our minds and live our truths. Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation is dedicated to them and to all parents who choose to bring their children up without accepting the status quo.