World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose

Mythili Kumar
First Appearance in SF EDF:

Founded by Artistic Director Mythili Kumar in 1980, Abhinaya Dance Company provides training in classical South Indian dance to Bay Area children and adults, maintains a performing ensemble of professional dancers, and presents traditional and innovative dance productions. Mythili Kumar was honored by World Arts West with the Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award in June 2010 and was recently named a Legacy Laureate for Lifetime Achievement by SVCreates in March 2015.


TITLE: Venkateswara Pushpanjali; Swaralaya Sangati
Mythili Kumar, Rasika Kumar
Krishna Adhvaryu, Yatrika Ajaya, Renuka Belwalkar, Rasika Kumar, Malavika Kumar, Sweeya Raj, Sweta Ravishankar, Lipika Sadaram, Goonja Shah, Santosh Sivakumar, Janany Subramaniam, Shruthi Thatikunta, Aishwarya Venkat, Vidhya Vijayakumar, Sahana Vishwanath

Abhinaya Dance Company presents bharatanatyam dance—South India’s classical dance form originating more than 2,000 years ago in Tamil Nadu’s Hindu temples. This form is an exquisite blend of abstract nritta dance and nritya expression, and it’s known for sculpturesque poses and for expressions of religion and metaphysics. Bharatanatyam is named for Sage Bharata, who first recorded the form and for three integrated components: bhava—expression; raga—melody; and tala—rhythm.

The first piece, Venkateswara Pushpanjali—Flower Offering to the God Venkateswara—was created by artistic director Mythili Kumar in 1994, and restaged by Rasika Kumar in 2006. The dancers pay homage to the Supreme Lord Vishnu, beginning with flower offerings and sanctification. They then depict Vishnu as he reclines on the serpent Adisesha, kills demons with his discus, and sits on the eagle Garuda. The lyrics tell us additional manifestations of the Hindu Lord:

The Supreme Lord Vishnu, who holds the conch and discus, manifests himself in five forms: as para, the transcendent reality; as vyuha, creator and sustainer of the universe; as vibhava, who assumed ten incarnations on this earth; as antaryamin, who dwells within the heart; and as archa, the sacred image of Lord Venkateswara.

The second piece is a pure dance item, Swaralaya Sangati or Rhythmic Variations, created in 2009 and 2014 by Rasika Kumar. The choreography explores the myriad ways dancers can move across the stage, and shows the elegant proficiency required for the form.The musical composition juxtaposes sung notes (swarams) and spoken rhythmic syllables (jathis) that increase in complexity.

The costumes are traditional silk with gold brocade borders, and they are modeled from ancient temple sculptures. Their jewelry is also modeled after ancient sculptures: gold-plated and embellished with rubies and semi-precious stones. The dancers also wear henna markings and flowers, while bells around their ankles accentuate the intricate footwork.

The music is in South Indian Carnatic classical form, a melody-based system in which a melodic scale called a raga allows for unique and varied compositions. Each raga has its own mood and flavor, created by a unique vocabulary of notes, ornamentations, microtones, and nuances. Musicians play melodies within the raga Shanmukhapriya and Ragamalika—the latter meaning “a garland of ragas,” since it links more than one raga together. The horizontal mridangam drum and cymbals closely follow dancers’ feet; and everyone follows the laya—the raga’s rhythm and pace.



Rasika Kumar (Abhinaya Dance Company) and Franco Imperial (San Jose Taiko)

2012 ABHINAYA DANCERS: Yatrika Ajaya, Anjana Dasu, Nilufer Jain, Eesha Khare, Malavika Kumar, Rasika Kumar, Rekha Nagarajan, Sindhu Natarajan, Anu Ranganathan
Mythili Kumar (nattuvangam or cymbals), Ganesh Ramanarayanan (mridangam), Sruti Sarathy (violin)
Rina Chang, Yurika Chiba, Alex Hudson, Franco imperial, Rylan Sekiguchi, Meg Suzuki, Adam Weiner

2011 ABHINAYA DANCERS: Yatrika Ajaya, Anjana Dasu, Eesha Khare, Malavika Kumar, Rasika Kumar, Sindhu Natarajan, Anu Ranganathan, Neeraja Venkat, Preeti Vissa
Lakshmi Balasubramanian (violin), Mythili Kumar (nattuvangam or cymbals), Ashwin Kumar (flute), Ganesh Ramnarayanan (mridangam)
2011 SAN JOSE TAIKO MUSICIANS: Rina Chang, Yurika Chiba, Alex Hudson, Franco Imperial, Allison Ishida, Stewart Kume, Trish Kume, Meg Suzuki, Adam Weiner

In 1993, two of San Jose’s oldest cultural groups, Abhinaya Dance Company and San Jose Taiko, collaborated in performance. Today the next generation—choreographers Franco Imperial and Rasika Kumar—present a new collaboration: Synergy. Dynamic Japanese taiko drummers awaken South Indian bharatanatyam dancers, and a playful exploration begins . . .

The piece underscores the unique qualities of each form, and it also accentuates what is shared: an underlying spirituality and ancient connection to religion; a dignified and commanding stage presence; commitment to rhythm and movement; and an energy that extends outward, through drumsticks and fingertips.

Bharatanatyam dance originated in South India’s ancient temples, as an exquisite blend of abstract dance (nritta) and graceful expression (nritya). The dancers’ costumes are modeled after temple sculptures and festive bridal attire, with jewelry, flowers, gold brocade, and elaborate henna designs.

In North America, taiko names both the Japanese drum and the art of kumidaiko ensemble drumming. Taiko was integral to Japanese classical and folk culture and religion. It only recently emerged as an ensemble art form of physical endurance and singleness of mind, body, and spirit.

The art form of taiko continually integrates new rhythms, and San Jose Taiko is influenced by different meters present in various world music traditions. Abhinaya dancers move to the intricate rhythmic cycles and changing meters of South Indian Carnatic music. To collaborate, Franco Imperial and Rasika Kumar created new rhythmic sequences within bharatanatyam signatures. The taiko drummers play hand-held uchiwa-daiko (fan drums), the mid-sized nagado-daiko drum, and the larger chu-daiko drum with bachi sticks. A mridangam (Indian drum) mirrors the dancers’ intricate footwork, along with cymbals, flute, and ankle bells.

Synergy was created in 2010.


Title: Prithvi Sooktam (Hymn to the Earth)
Rasika Kumar
Yatrika Ajaya, Anjana Dasu, Rasika Kumar, Anu Ranganathan, Megha Ranganathan, Sindura Ravichandran, Madhav Vissa
Recorded Musicians
: Malavika Kumar (rhythm vocals/nattuvangam); A. Mahadevan (morsing); Ragavan Manian (flute); N. Narayan (mridangam); Shanthi Narayan (violin); Asha Ramesh (composer/vocals)

Om-Let us meditate upon Prithvi Devi –Mother Earth
To inspire and illuminate our mind and understanding
She of a thousand forms —

This verse begins Prithvi Sooktam, a hymn from the Atharvana Veda (ca 4000 BC) that pays homage to Earth—to its magnificence and abundance, and to all creatures and races of humankind. The dance opens with a bow to Mother Earth. Then, through bharatanatyam storytelling, the dancers bring to life these ancient lines:

Oh Mother Earth On thee are the oceans and rivers
On thee food and harvests came into being
Oh Earth made pleasant by your hills, mountains and forest lands
From thee are born mortal creatures
On thee roam - fish, birds, monkeys, tigers, horses, elephants . . .
On thee live people of varied religions and varied languages
O Mother Earth! Set us on the path to prosperity and good fortune!

The costumes of rich silk, gold brocade, gold-plated jewelry, and precious stones are based on ancient stone sculptures of Hindu deities. The dancer dresses as a bride, her body adorned with jewelry, flowers, and henna. 

Rasika Kumar created the choreography for Prithvi Sooktam. Mythili Kumar conceived and researched the piece, selecting verses and rhythmic phrases. Acclaimed vocalist Asha Ramesh composed the music.



TITLE: Shakti – The Powerful Goddess
CHOREOGRAPHERS: Mythili Kumar and Rasika Kumar
: Yatrika Ajaya,Anjana Dasu, Malavika Kumar, Mythili Kumar, Rasika Kumar, Megha Ranganathan, Sharada Sripadam, Anjali Thakkar, Sushma Umesh, Vaibhavi Umesh, Neeraja Venkat
: Sameera Mokkarala, Viba Subramaniam
: Malavika Kumar (nattuvangam), Mythili Kumar (nattuvangam), Akhilesh Sista (veena)
: A.P. Krishna Prasad (flute), K.S. Sudhaman (mridangam), Sudev Warrier (vocals)

In Indian classical dance, the bharatanatyam style can be used to depict any story or episode in the world. The theme in this dance is conveyed by its title—Shakti - The Powerful Goddess. The Goddess Shakti represents the ultimate feminine power inherent in all creation. She is Devi, The Great Goddess, protector of the universe, curer of disease, and vanquisher of evil. As Jagan-Maata, Universal Mother, Shakti is the cosmic force, dynamic and ferocious as she destroys demonic forces that threaten world equilibrium, and alternatively gentle and radiant, the gracious donor of wealth, fortune, and success. Shakti was once worshipped throughout the ancient world, and her presence predates that of the patriarchal Hindu Trinity—Brahma - creator, Vishnu-preserver, and Shiva - destroyer—by thousands of years. Today, her following is widespread only in India, where it remains a vibrant, living tradition. Shakti's presence empowers and stirs the hearts of her devotees with adoration and devotion, and her attributes are an inspiration for earthly women.

Shakti - The Powerful Goddess was choreographed for today's stage by Mythili Kumar and her daughter Rasika Kumar, with input from her second daughter, Malavika Kumar. The dance begins as Shakti emerges from the primordial sacrificial fire. Then the Goddess manifests several Shaktis like herself, and vanquishes the demons around her. Alternately fierce and graceful, the Goddess inspires and energizes all her devotees.

The dancers wear traditional dance costumes of silk with gold-bordered saris stitched in a pant or skirt style. This costume is generic festival attire in South India with jewelry adorning the head, dangling earrings, nose ornaments, waist belt, necklaces, flowers in the hair, bangles, and ankle bells. Characters are portrayed with hand gestures, body movements and facial expressions. A sash is added to the torso to create a ‘manly look’ and a dark colored sash—black or red—denote an evil character or demon.

Mythili Kumar and Malavika Kumar will take turns performing nattuvangam—conducting the musicians with cymbals. Abhinaya is pleased to perform with three guest international musicians from India—Sudev Warrier, vocals; K.S. Sudhaman, mridangam (South Indian drum); and A.P. Krishna Prasad, flute.



TITLE: Varsha (Rainy Season)
CHOREOGRPAHERS: Mythili Kumar and Rasika Kumar
DANCERS: Yatrika Ajaya, Anjana Dasu, Malavika Kumar, Rasika Kumar, Pavithra Mukundan, Viba Subramaniam, Anjali Thakkar, Vaibhavi Umesh, Neeraja Venkat, Madhav Vissa
ALTERNATE DANCERS: Sushma Umesh and Preeti Vissa
MUSIC: Asha Ramesh and Guru C.V. Chandrasekhar
LYRICS: Kalidasa
RECORDED MUSICIANS: Nishanth Chari (sitar), Mythili Kumar (vocalized rhythmic syllables), A. Mahadevan (morsing), Ragavan Manian (flute), N. Narayan (mridangam), Shanthi Narayan (violin), Asha Ramesh (vocals), Madhav Vissa (cymbals)

Ritusamhara is a lyrical dance based on the poetry of the great Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidasa, who was a devoted worshipper of Shiva. Ritusamhara means “gathering of the seasons,” as it is a poem that describes the rainy season called varsha. Thunder rolls, lightning flashes, dark clouds hang heavily on the land until finally the much-awaited rain comes. The peacocks, finally freed from the heat, dance drunkenly, while the rivers, muddy and wild, pull down trees growing on the riverbanks and tumble them towards the sea. The costumes are modeled from those seen in ancient temple sculptures, and to mark the rainy season, the dancers are dressed in blue.

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