Denver's Mudra Dance Studio has been celebrating the dynamic traditions of classical Indian dance, and putting a contemporary spin on it, since long before Bollywood films became a popular genre here in the US with non-Indians. Namita Khanna Nariani, a brilliant, energetic dynamo of a teacher and choreographer, founded the troupe 17 years ago and turned it into a non-profit organization eight years ago -- all while raising a family and maintaining a career as an architect.
Nariani's troupe has become a popular attraction of each year's Colorado Dragon Boat Festival (the photo above is from the 2010 festival in July); she's been a regular every year since the second year, closing out the festival with a one-two punch of her Mudras followed by the very popular Denver Taiko Japanese drummers. Ever since the third year, the Mudras have collaborated with Denver Taiko and now that's become a regular cross-cultural highlight of the event.
The powerful Japanese drums have come to fit so well in Nariani's South Asian vision of cultural fusion, in fact, that Mudra Dance Studio now incorporates a taiko drummer, Thomas Knight, as a regular part of its exciting annual performances, which Khanna produces as fundraisers for various charities.
Each of the annual Mudra shows are carefully structured to be showcases not only of dynamic dance, music and multimedia, but also of an innate spirituality that is a part of the Mudra lifestyle. All its members seem imbued with this spirituality, because it flows down from Nariani herself. She explains the idea of ILLhaam, which is about cycles:
We are exploring the journey each of us go on during our lifetime, hoping to reach that destination that enlightens us, ILLuminates us!!!
Our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls go onto the path of CYCLES:
The cycles of creation and learning, through the elements of nature and of relationships...
Each one of us gather knowledge, learn through that journey and try to pass it on.... Trying to become a better human being, in turn making us a better community, living in a better world! We hope to achieve this for us and for our future generations...
OK, sure, it's a little woo-woo, but that's Nariani for you. She expresses this spirituality unapologetically, honestly and without pretension. She's real, and her Mudra dancers are real good. The proceeds from this year's shows go to the Indian Nepalese Heritage Camp, a wonderful non-profit that serves adopted South Asian children every summer with a weekend of cultural immersion in the Rockies.
This is one show you'll want to see, if you're interested in Indian culture colored with a splash of contemporary cool. It's a great introduction to Denver's thriving South Asian community.
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