The Art in Dance: Bharata Natyam

The American Folk Festival is excited to welcome back Kasi Aysola, a performer of the classical Indian dance Bharata Natyam. When he first performed in 2009 at the Festival, Kasi was part of Mythili Prakash, the Dance of India Ensemble. This year, backed by a talented group of musicians, he is performing solo and ready to captivate the crowd with 50 minute sets of non-stop energetic narrative dance. This year, the eye-catching Festival poster features Kasi.

Complex and multi-dimensional, the Bharata Natyam performance incorporates body movements, facial expressions, hand gestures, footwork, costumes, music, repertoire, and themes, requiring dancers to become not only a technical, but an artistic expert of the tradition. Kasi has been working hard since childhood—testing out different types of dance and landing back at the root of his cultural upbringing with Bharata Natyam, one of several traditional Indian dance styles.

As I was speaking with Kasi I became fascinated with the presence of various art forms in a performance of Bharata Natyam. It is, primarily and obviously, dance. Choreography, flow, and rhythm are central components to the physical movements. But, as Kasi dove deeper into the roots of the tradition—as a sacred part of temple rituals in southern India—he revealed that many of the poses are directly pulled from etchings on ancient Hindu temple walls. If a photographer was to capture each moment in the performance, every pose could be tied to a piece of art carved by a sculptor thousands of years ago. Incredible!

When you watch Kasi’s performances on Saturday and Sunday, take a moment to pick out the individual poses. What does the movement mean? What story do you think the dance tells? If you’re attending with children ask them to create their own narrative dance or imagine a story from the energetic gestures of Bharata Natyam!