I have wanted to visit the DuSable Museum for many years but it was the added attraction of a performance by Rama Vaidyanathan in a solo Bharata Natyam recital that finally gave me the impetus to go. This unique event on a gorgeous fall afternoon was the result of collaboration between Natya Dance Theatre and the Indo American Heritage Museum. This performance was the grand finale of the series, Beats of Life, Rhythms of Heritage. The series was made possible by a generous grant from The Chicago Community Trust.
It brought together one of the most sought after Bharatanatyam dancers of her generation, Rama Vaidyanathan and four wonderful musicians; Shri Sivakumar playing the Nattuvangam, Smt. Asha Ramesh whose voice was like a bird's, Shri Arun Kumar who played the Mridangam and Shri Vikram Ragukumar playing the violin.
Bharatanatyam is a classical Indian dance form that originated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil. Bharatanatyam is a reworked dance-form from the traditional "sadir" known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses. Bharata Natyam employs dynamic body movement, rhythmic footwork, hand gestures, and facial expressions to convey meaning and emotion to create rasa, the aesthetic experience that transforms the audience. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world. Bharatanatyam, as the name depicts is the combination of: 'Bha' - Bhavam (means expression), 'Ra' - Ragam (means music), 'Ta - Talam (means beat or rhythm) and Natyam (means dance) in Tamil. Dancers should be agile and beautiful and surely Rama Vaidyanathan was both, as well as captivating.
She is one of India’s leading classical dancers and considered one of the best interpreters of this dance. Her unique thought process and fresh approach to this dance form, (which is deeply rooted in tradition) allows her own individual style while maintaining core principles of Bharata. Rama Vaidyanathan has been widely applauded and certainly was by the audience at this performance. Her rare sense of devotion and dedication impacted the audience so that most left with a sense of spiritual fulfillment.
The auditorium of the DuSable Museum was a wonderful venue for this performance. Being Sunday and a free day at the museum, it was possible to wander through the exhibits which were varied and impressive. The museum has come a long way since it’s first home, which was the home of its founders, Margaret Goss Burroughs and her husband Charles Burroughs. Earlier this historic South Side mansion had been a boardinghouse for African American Railroad workers.
In 1973 a former Chicago Park District facility in Washington Park became the new home of the museum and it was renamed in honor of Chicago’s first permanent nonnative settler, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, an Afro-French trader. An interracial group of educators and activists that included Eugene Pieter Feldman, Gerard Lew, Marian Hadly, Ralph Turner, James O'Kennard, and Wilbur Jones played a central role in the museum's early development.
The DuSable Museum of African American History is the first and oldest museum dedicated to the study and conservation of African American history, culture, and art. (Wikipedia)
Monday-closed, Tuesday-Saturday 10 am- 5pm, Sunday 12-5pm, 740 East 56th Place, Chicago, IL 60637
Natya Dance Theatre (NDT), under the artistic leadership of Hema Rajagopalan, is amongst the most critically acclaimed and culturally treasured Indian dance companies in the United States. The professional dance company was founded in 1994 and is based in Chicago, IL.
The Indo American Heritage Museum promotes understanding and engages with communities to document the history, celebrate the heritage, and showcase the contributions of Indian Americans to the building of America.
Photos: B. Keer