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Issue: December 2010

By Alexander Clark Campbell

Ingenuity of the Ingenue a.k.a. American Aspirations

This column is about the great Hindu year-end celebration of Diwali, which was on November 13. Diwali - their Festival, or 'Row,' of Lights - is sometimes compared to the Western Christmas and indeed uses Christmas lights (as well as, like us, the eating of too many sweets). It celebrates Lord Rama's return and vanquishing of the forces of Evil, after a 14-year exile.]

At the risk of never again being taken very seriously, I will tell you I attended two children's dance recitals in the last two months as a way to check out, and, yes, support, Indian Dance in Louisville. However, the punch line is that some of these children are very professional and beautiful performers. Adults, no matter how good, couldn't hope to match them for charm and precociousness

Some of these kids are so good and the choreography and teaching behind them likewise that my mind still chews on the memories like termites - leftover figments still repeating like a projected film loop in my brain

Memory has selected certain favorites from the two recitals a Kathak (North Indian) recital under the direction of Meena Deshpande (wow! kudos are really called for here - real artistry was attained in this performance) at the Speed early in October, and a Telugu (South Indian) concert that not only included kids' dancing, all ages, at Ballard High, but doctor(s) and other professionals singing their Bollywood favorites at 'Ballywood High,' at the end of October. (For this latter effort, there were several choreographers who had taught the children, but I am indebted for my invitation to attend to Ms. Vindhaya Katta.)

Here, then, some of the personal highlights for Yours Truly:

Two kids mimicking sylvan statues like Hawthorne's Marble Fawns with little pastoral female dancers sashaying around them. (Telugu Ballard High)

A Kathak number where the dance mimicked the movements of a rowboat (Kathak Speed)

A Kathak number where the dance mimicked the movements (and sounds) of a train (the train that iconic engima of music itself!) (Kathak Speed)

The most touching number of the Kathak recital was a homemade film that had a shot of each kid/performer (including the only boy there the one who played Ganesh) that highlighted some special aspect of the child's individual personality

The story of Ganesh with a little plump kid running around in an elephant mask surrounded by dancers (Kathak Speed)

Little cute kids between 3-6, with one frozen cutely in stage fright (Little Angels Routine Telugu Ballard High)

Brindavanam choreography by Supriya Kancharla - a prizewinner (Telugu Ballard High)

The beautiful and poignant Nachale's Love choreographed by Vindhaya Katta (Telugu Ballard High)

A country-inspired number with kids in cowboy hats (Telugu Ballard High)

The Telegu celebration placed me amid the Kentuckiana Indian immigrant community, high times and a big night for aspiring kids and grown-ups not just carrying on their native traditions, including numerous folk dances on traditional themes, but also incorporating that wholly contemporary and international 'Bollywood' spin in the interpretation that lately has made Indian drumming, music, dance, and song meld so seamlessly into what strikes us as totally international and 'modern,' and which defines the scintillating Indian niche in modern pop culture - but which one can see, from events like these, is inspired by ancient elements of an ancient cultural scene

The folks at Ballard High rolled out the red carpet for us non-Indians who came to share their family/cultural event, national food, exquisite native dress and bilingual spirit: cheering and participation from the audience were de rigeur all evening, and as often we were addressed in their native language as in English

A defining moment was when the emcee spoke to one young dancer in their native language, and the boy hesitated, just a moment while he translated it in his head, before answering in English whereupon the adult, realizing the child was more English-fluent than Telugu-fluent, switched to heavily-accented English as well. This brought home to me how great a degree this event captured a moment in this community's history when it is changing - Westernizing - once and forever: almost faster than they themselves can keep up

An honored guest of the Telegu evening was a child-star genius who has had a string of guest appearances on national TV talk shows, performing mental feats like defeating panels of noted college professors on his favorite intellectual subjects - a kid the MC characterized as half a descendant of one Indian subculture; half from another - 'and 100% American!'

These people seemed flatly overjoyed to be joining in American life - and so infectious was their joy and the beauty and charm of their native culture, I was overjoyed about it, too


Star bright,

First star I see tonight . .

The first star one ever sees - the one that rises into one's own childhood memories - is inevitably the one that always will shine the brightest in that individual's heart. The adults who are working so hard to pass on the culture that shone for them, in India growing up, are making sure that same star shines for the new generation in America - alongside the other, newer, American star that will also shine for these children, here

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese has done a collection of his favorite (vintage) Italian films, with personal narration (called My Voyage to Italy), in which he tells us that these were the films that struck him as being bigger than life, more richly mythic and magical than anything he, as a kid growing up, ever saw on this side of the Atlantic, in real life - and that they - these movies - that were watched at the time by no one else in the US except the Italian immigrant community - were what, combined with the American experience, gave him his love for film, his filmic vision - that, in a word, made Martin Scorsese Martin Scorsese

So I wonder which of the kids I saw up there at these recitals (apart from the young genius, who we know is a rising star), nurtured on Indian art forms, might one day turn out, on the Scorsese model, to be a great creative force in American/International Dance?

The moment when the torch is passed, and cultural streams crossed and cross-pollinated, is a glorious but all-but invisible one - one that takes place largely unnoticed, limitedly celebrated - at events like an immigrant community's recitals for its children

What we see around us all the time are the realizations of American Dreams; American's Dreams the American Dream. But the essence of a Dream is that it's not real yet. And that is what I attended on those two occasions, this past month: Dreams not yet but maybe one day coming, true

Alright, enough of that

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