Courtesy of Kris Aziabor

Yale Kalaa, Dhvani and Brown University’s Abhinaya collaborated for the first time to put on the inaugural Bharatanatyam dance drama with a live orchestra this Saturday.

The Crescent Underground saw a vibrant multilingual dance drama show as musicians and dancers came together to put on “Leela.” The performance was a Bharatanatyam — an Indian classical dance style — dance drama depicting the pastimes or ‘leelas’ of Lord Krishna. It was the foremost collaboration of Yale Kalaa with Brown Abhinaya, a South Asian classical dance team established at Brown in 2017. 

“This art form is so much more than just a performance,” said co-captain of Yale Kalaa, Shruti Parthasarathy ’24. “To me, celebrating the beauty of Bharatanatyam means celebrating expression — of the self and of a community. Each component of Bharatanatyam is like a language — like hand gestures or mudras representing different words — and woven together, they help us convey stories and our interpretations of the world around us.”

This cross-collaboration production benefited from the input of multiple organizations, Parthasarathy said,  as all of the organizations could help properly showcase the “intricacies and nuances” of their culture.

Overall, the cross-disciplinary collaborations allowed each individual to represent their own interpretations of Krishna’s leelas through their different talents and arts, she said. 

“Growing up, creating and performing in dance dramas has really shaped my life,” Parthasarathy said. “Being able to share this part of my identity with my closest friends, family, and Yale community is truly special and an unforgettable experience for me.”

Fellow co-captain Maanasa Nandigam ’25 met with Parthasarathy on Zoom over winter recess to get the idea in motion. They had to delegate choreography to individual team members, choose songs and manage the intersection of all the groups involved. 

Nandigam founded Yale Dhvani — Yale’s classical Indian music group — this fall, providing the production with a live orchestra. The diverse orchestra included traditional percussion instruments — mridangam and tabla — a violinist, a veena player, a nattuvanaar and several vocalists. 

Despite the many challenges of organizing several instruments and managing the microphones and sound system, the co-captains and overall team were able to get the preparation done during many 3 a.m. nights in the Crescent theater. At the end of the day, though, Nandigam said, “it truly was worth it.”

“Because I am very familiar with both Classical music and dance, I helped bridge that connection between the musicians and dancers,” Nandigam said. 

Kalaa member and choreographer Eesha Bodapati ’25 felt grateful to connect and dance with Brown Abhinaya. She also grew up learning Bharatanatyam, so practicing it is very important to her, she said. The work she put into Leela was “exhausting,” but seeing it come to fruition was “extremely rewarding.” 

“Celebrating the beauty of Bharatanatyam means tapping into my roots and diving deep into a personal, spiritual and calming space in my soul,” said Maanasi Nair ’25, who aided with the choreography, creative direction and social media involved in the performance. “It means keeping the tradition of a sacred art alive, and being part of a concept so much larger than you.”

The general plotline of Leela follows Lord Krishna from his birth through his mischievous childhood, ending with his teenage love for Radha, a Hindu goddess. A packed audience enjoyed the dance groups’ interpretation of Lord Krishna’s story at the sold-out performance. 

“It felt like a flashbulb memory,” Nandigam said in the closing remarks of the show. “I took in the intended audience, and the beautiful hanging flower garlands that Eesha brought from India and the amazing sarees from India that we were wearing, and I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, we really made this happen.’”

Yale Kalaa’s next performance is “Dhamaal” on March 4.

Paloma Vigil is the Arts Editor for the Yale Daily News. She previously served as a DEI co-chair and staff reporter for the University and Sports desks. Past coverage includes religious life, Yale College Council, sailing and gymnastics. Originally from Miami, she is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Psychology and Political Science.