[Photo Courtesy: Aalokam]

Dancing can be used to tell a story, express religious devotion or communicate feelings with a single movement–and in the classical Indian dancing tradition of bharatanatyam, a dancer gracefully balances all three.

The Bharatanatyam-performing duo Aalokam performed “Eka: A Tryst With The Divine” Tuesday evening for the South Asian International Performing Arts Festival (SAIPAF). In its description, the performance is explained as a “mystical journey with the divine in its all-encompassing force and beauty.”

Bharatanatyam, a “synergy of the body, mind and the consciousness” as defined by Aalokam, is a form of classical Indian dance that was born out of temples in Tamil Nadu. It is an energetic and, at times suspenseful, dance devoted to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva.

The “mystical journey” was told in seven distinct parts: Malari, Nandi Sol, Varnam, Ashtapadi, Javeli, Thilana and Omana Thingal. While Malari replicates the temple music played to welcome the audience, the Javeli (or “lewd poetry”) segment was a sensual and whimsical portrayal of a niyaka vying for the love of Krishna.

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Dancers Jyotsna Kalyansundar and Bharathi Penneswaran connect with the audience and the divine by expressing themselves through animated facial expressions, deft hand movements and quick-footed steps across the stage.

The performance also featured a live band comprised of a vocalist, violinist and mridangam and nattuvangam players. The jingling of the dancers’ anklets were in tune with the music: a hurried jingle matched a staccato rhythm, while slow-moving bells accompanied careful movements to the vocalist’s crooning.

Kalyansundar and Penneswaran consider bharatanatyam as more than a dance—it’s an “all-encompassing discipline–it brings together geometry, philosophy, mythology, science, history, literature and aesthetics in one whole unifying concept.”

It also plays an important role for desis wanting to connect to their South Asian roots. “Globalization has made it harder for newer generations to connect with traditions, and we strive to use dance and storytelling as a medium to bridge the disconnect,” Penneswaran said.

The two plan on performing more with Aalokam as well as open a dance school. The school, currently in its pilot phase, seeks to create “an inclusive learning environment, a safe space to challenge oneself, increase awareness of body, space, rhythm and expression and finally fostering creative freedom to convey one’s story through dance.”

Bharatanatyam will make another appearance at SAIPAF in “Karnataka Vaibhava,”  a collection of folk dances from Karnataka, on Saturday, August 8 at 12:30 p.m.