Performers on stage during "Sivagamiyin Sabadham." Photo by Kay Richter.
Performers on stage during "Sivagamiyin Sabadham." Photo courtesy of Eric Lane Photography.

Crossing the threshold of Thiry Auditorium on the Our Lady of the Lake University campus on a recent afternoon, I expected “Sivagamiyin Sabadham to appear as a hybrid of community theater and Bollywood.

India’s film industry is a heavy machine cranking out double the output of our own domestic films. Known for their spicy elements, Bollywood films hold fast to the basic formula of action, villains, romance and melodrama – skipping the sex scenes, of course.

The show begins and I am pleasantly surprised. It was easy to lose the cheesy Bollywood comparisons that had me worried. The musical mastery of composer Madurai R. Muralidaran comes through, even though he recorded the soundtrack for his musical in India before bringing his composition to San Antonio. The dancers lip sync their respected parts in perfect time, creating an insightful glimpse into a classical storyline.

An impressive computer-generated visual display blends with 50 dancers, their costumes and jewelry in a mesmerizing performance. Half of the dance troupe is from Dallas, and the other half is based locally at Kaveri Natya Yoga, the studio specializing in the promotion of traditional Indian culture through the incorporation of yoga and dance.

A photo of the primary female leads of the production. The old Sivagamiyin is portrayed by Kavyalakshimi Muralidaran, and the young Sivagamiyin portrayed by Kalaimani Uma Murali. They are the actual wife and daughter of director and lead dancer Natyaperarasu Madurai R. Muralidaran. Courtesy Photo Eric Lane Photography.
A photo of the primary female leads of the production. The old Sivagamiyin is portrayed by Kavyalakshimi Muralidaran, and the young Sivagamiyin portrayed by Kalaimani Uma Murali. They are the actual wife and daughter of director and lead dancer Natyaperarasu Madurai R. Muralidaran. Photo courtesy of Eric Lane Photography.

The beginning of the performance features a short video composition that introduces the characters and sets the stage. The steady images from the projections cast large shadows over the audience, making the stage characters appear gigantic and stressing their importance. The projected historical maps help build the historical setting of 7th century India.

Despite occasional hiccups and dancers not always in perfect unison, this performance of “Sivagamiyin Sabadham” does not disappoint. The rhythm and dance movements help to deliver a powerful story set in southern India.

The storyline, based on the Tamil novel written by Amarar Kalki in 1944, explores universal topics of politics, love, lust, betrayal and separation. The two characters quickly coming to the center of attention through their budding romance are Prince Narasimha and Sivagami.

The character Sivagami, played by Kalaimamani Uma Murali, is the daughter of the land’s premier sculptor. Through her rhythmic movements, we see a young girl grow into a mature woman, portrayed by Kavyalakshmi Muralidaran. The young Sivagami is a masterful dancer of balance and precision. Her costumes catch the eye with dazzling fabrics and gems.

The younger Sivagami is the essence of youth and beauty. In the end, though, she is denied her childhood love. Instead, she witnesses Prince Narasimha as a married royal with two gorgeous daughters accompanying him on their daily stroll. The older Sivagami, wizened and tempered by the pain of lost love, is no less precise in the dance steps and facial expressions that display her agony.

Instead of allowing herself to be wretched by heartache, our lead character sets herself free, directing the pangs of lost love to create the last bridge she needs for her final transformation.

The show, in its sixth consecutive year, is produced locally through the efforts of several organizations including  Bihl Haus Arts, Kaveri Natya Yoga, and the San Antonio Tamil Sangram. It’s certainly not Bollywood.

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Kay Richter

Kay Richter is a native of San Antonio. She attended Texas State University – San Marcos where she studied journalism and history. She has been a reporter for several community newspapers in south and...