As an Indian transplant, Vikas Kapoor shared with his fellow countrymen the desire to raise his children within Indian traditions, knowing, of course, that his kids would likely embrace the customs of their own home country.
But the chairman/CEO of New York information technology and services company Mezocliq—and wife Jaishri—clearly struck the right balance, and on Saturday night invited 1,000 of his closest friends—including Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals founder George Wein—to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall for Night of Moves, a personal take on the centuries-old traditional Bharatanatyam dance performed by twin daughters Riya Mani and Sara Mani Kapoor.
Now 15, the girls were celebrating their Rangapravesh stage debut as Bharatanatyam dancers, having studied the ancient form since age four under the tutelage of Swati Bhise, herself an acclaimed dancer/teacher and artist-in-residence at Lincoln Center Institute and Symphony Space. Bhise was also onstage, conducting a Carnatic (South Indian classical music) orchestra of notable players from India and the U.S. and consisting of flute, violin, veena (necked bowl lute), two percussionists, three vocalists, and herself on nattuvangam hand cymbals.
But in keeping with her students’ broad performing arts interests—especially jazz and modern dance—the Carnatic orchestra was joined by a New York jazz quartet of electric guitar, sax, bass and tabla. Still, the performance focused on stories from Hindu mythology, the barefoot girls manifesting them through flowing hands and sweeping arms, floating neck movements, hopping, skipping, cross-stepping, lunging and balancing on one leg—all either next to each other or forming a single organism.
“Dashavatar,” for example, depicted the 10 avatars of supreme god Vishnu (fish, turtle, boar, half-man/half-lion, dwarf, warrior, lord of virtue, Krishna, great sage, destroyer of darkness). “Navarasa” portrayed the nine core emotions in classical Indian dance: beauty and love, valor or heroism, sorrow, laughter, anger, surprise, fear, disgust and peace.
Acting as comedic emcee, the twins’ 13-year-old brother Kavi Mani related how his sisters initially thought he was “a toy from FAO Schwarz” and that his stroller was a bumper car. Himself a student of the wooden double-headed mridangam drum, he twice came out to join the Carnatic group on percussion, the second time on the closing “Thom”: a contemporary piece created by the girls, who changed out of their traditional costume and into black outfits to dance to a recording of a composition by Bollywood great A.R. Rahman and sung by playback singer Shankar Mahadevan—also with live accompaniment by two dhol drummers and the jazz players.
Also at the end, Kapoor, who is on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera and the Newport Jazz Festival, brought out his “great friend and mentor” Wein to consecrate the event with a blessing. Now 90, Wein would only extol the “eternal majesty and ethereal beauty of all women” embodied by Riya and Sara’s performance, and suggest that it was up to the audience to bless the Kapoor family for “the joy and love and happiness and privilege of being here tonight.”
In doing so, Wein put to rest Kapoor’s “worry”—as he put it earlier—of “doing a good job [upholding] the cultural baton” passed down by his ancestors and now to his kids.
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