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Legendary Undertaking

Dance: Troupe's new drama underscores the traditional practice of worshiping the mythological characters of yore and lore in India.

September 14, 1996|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Siva and Sakti are the first parents in the Hindu pantheon of gods. Legends and myths surround them and their children. But they are not myths in the sense of make-believe.

"The characters of the myths and legends, we worship them," said Sridevi Thirumalai, who will appear in the dance-drama "Siva Sakti" on Sunday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

"Most of our dance-dramas collect information from myths and legends," she said. "But, in fact, we worship the characters. So our dance-dramas are an extension of some kind of worship or prayer."

Thirumalai was speaking from the Natyamani School of Dance in Westborough, Mass., which she directs with her husband, Ajai.

The couple have put together this two-part piece, which received its premiere last weekend in Queens, N.Y. The production then moved to Philadelphia before coming to Orange County. The two-month tour concludes Nov. 3 in Florida. "It's a traditional story," Thirumalai said. "It is not derived from the 'Ramayana' or the 'Mahabharata.' "

The drama begins in the time-honored way with a ceremonial procession in which the gods are honored. There follows a sequence of six episodes, including the birth of Ganesha, the elephant-headed first son of the couple, Siva and Parvati, as Sakti is also called.

"He's created as an ideal," Thirumalai said. "He comes to life as a brave young lad. He is instructed to guard Parvati's bedroom and stops Siva when he tries to enter. Siva beheads him, and Parvati rushes out bewailing the fate of her darling son.

"Siva realizes his error and affixes an elephant's head on the boy, then brings him back to life. He crowns him Lord of the Ganas."

The birth of the second son, Subrahmanya, comes next, and then other episodes follow.

"The first part delineates the glories of Siva," Thirumalai said. "Then we glorify Sakti--she who gives happiness to mankind. She combines strength and the gentleness of the female principal."

The whole concludes with episodes of pure rhythmic dance and then another procession. "With the final procession," Thirumalai said, "the rituals come full circle."

The style of the dance is Bharata Natyam, the classical dance idiom of southern India. It will be exemplified here in the Vazhuvoor tradition, "a graceful and very precise style," Thirumalai said.

The work was choreographed by Smt. R. Rhadha, Thirumalai's guru and the choreographer of the dance-drama "Jaya Jaya Devi," presented at the Irvine theater in 1994. There are eight dancers: six women and two men, most of whom also call Rhadha their guru. The six musicians are from India.

"I took part in 'Jaya,' " Thirumalai said. "That inspired me to do something like this. We started working last September, my husband and I. It took a year to get things together" to mount this tour.

"We were looking for organizers in different places. The [Irvine-based] Arpana [Foundation] is one of the organizations that really promote and respond to dance ballets. They also sponsored 'Jaya Jaya Devi' and knew about the caliber of the dancers and the whole thing.

Thirumalai was born in southern India and moved to Massachusetts in 1992, where she started her school of dance.

"I started dancing when I was 5," she said. "I've been doing it for 20 years now. But it takes many years to perfect this art form. I still have much more to learn. There is no end to it.

"Partly people come to it for entertainment, like an opera. But there's more to it than that. For the dancers and the musicians, the question is how can they transcend what is called entertainment to do much more: Whether we can move the audience. That depends on the group, and that's what we hope to do."

* Sridevi Thirumalai and her company will dance "Siva Sakti" on Sunday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive. 6 p.m. $12-$20. The performance is sponsored by the Irvine-based Arpana Foundation. (714) 854-4646.

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