Queensborough plays host to traditional Indian dancing

Students of the Noopura Indian Classical Dance Co., including Shanu Mathew (front), perform a traditional dance at Queenborough Community College. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Connor Adams Sheets

Classical South Indian dance took center stage Sunday night during an epic show at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

Mohiniyattam and other dance traditions popular in the Indian state of Kerala were the focus of a showcase of nearly 20 numbers, performed by nearly 260 young dancers trained at the New York post of the Noopura Indian Classical Dance Co.

Noopura was founded in 1989 by revered dance instructor Chandrika Kurup and offers classes in locations throughout New York City, Westchester County and northern New Jersey, including Queens Village and Bellerose.

The performances featured elements of the diverse culture in that highly educated section of the Asian country, where Hinduism and Christianity commingle and dance is taken seriously.

The college used to host a large-scale event, such as Sunday’s once every year, but for nearly a decade the school was unable to bring the elements together, so the event was something of a return to ritual, a celebration of a culture that is kept alive in the hearts of the immigrant Indian community of New York.

“This is the first time we’ve performed since 2001. We have a lot of new students who’ve never performed in the annual show before. We haven’t had an opportunity — timing-wise, kids-wise — to do this since 2001,” Vivek Kurup, manager at Noopura and Chandrika’s son, said during a moment’s break from running the show. “It’s everything from Indian traditional to various types of folk dance. We’ve had a tremendous response.”

Queensborough’s performing arts center’s seats were filled with parents and dance lovers, many of whom dressed in colorful saris to watch the dance unfold on stage to the music of instruments, including the sitar, tabala, idakka and maddalam.

Samuel Blythe played the part of Shiva, a major Hindu deity, in one of the spectacular dances Sunday night. He wore a strikingly bright-colored traditional costume, with makeup to make his emotions more visible to the crowd. He said he believes more attention should be paid to Indian dance.

“This shows all the accomplishments of the school, and it’s one of the few occasions where they allow all the dancers to participate, all ages,” he said after completing an extended dance sequence. “They’re combining some Hindu themes with Christian themes as well. The first dance tonight is for Ganesha — the elephant-headed god — and the last one is for Jesus. … Indian classical dance is an under-appreciated art form because the West doesn’t know about it and in India they’re tired of it.”

Unni Pilli volunteered to help with the event. His 12-year-old daughter Parvathi has been a student at Noopura since she was 4 years old, and he said it is a privilege for her to be taught by Chandrika Kurup, who he described as a master dancer.

“Chandrika is very pure to the classical elements. There’s a lot of Bollywood-ization in Indian dance now, and she’s one of the few teachers who stuck to her gun and is teaching students the pure classical stuff,” he said during a break between dances. “Her reputation follows her. For Indian parents, it’s like having the Bolshoi Ballet’s prime ballerina teaching your kids.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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