Local kindergarten through third-grade students are truly experiencing cultural enrichment this week; but if you asked them about the Arts In Education program Darke County Center for the Arts is presenting throughout the community, they’d tell you that they had a lot of fun, enjoying the sights and sounds of “Kathakaar: The Spinning Storyteller.”
As Kathak dancer Jin Won and tabla artist Mike Lukshis ably demonstrated their skills, genially sharing insight into technique and meaning of the traditional Indian art form with their young audiences, the youngsters sat enthralled and then spontaneously and enthusiastically joined in the rhythmic foot stomping and hand-clapping, sometimes over-powering the meaningful sound created by the performers. But that was not a deterrent to the obvious joy being engendered throughout the performance.
Jin Won, wearing a beautiful emerald green costume, explained that those storytellers who traveled from village to village in ancient India sharing mythical tales of the many traditional gods and goddesses with various “super powers” were called Kathakaar. She then performed a story in which Krishna triumphed over evil, her graceful fluid movements and pounding feet capturing the rapt attention of the youngsters, who sometimes just couldn’t keep themselves from pounding their feet on the bleachers where they were seated. On each ankle, Jin wears a set of 100 individually tied bells called ghungroo from which complicated rhythm patterns happily jingle. A glorious cacophony filled the room, along with a sense of wonder at the aesthetically pleasing scene.
The accompanying sounds emanating from the tabla heightened the excitement, as Mike Lukshis’s flying fingers skillfully extracted from his instrument surprisingly melodic phrases with complex beat structures. Mike told the youngsters about his instrument, comprised of two drums, one made of wood and leather the other of brass and leather, with the ability to sustain sound, thus creating a “drum that sings.” Tabla is a percussive instrument with an oral tradition; everything played on tabla is first spoken, with the voice mimicking the exact sounds elicited from the drum. The students then used tabla language to form “rhythm poems” that moved faster and faster, filling the performance space with even more excitement and energy.
After teaching her audience how to count in Hindi, Jin led the students in a rhythmical “triangle composition,” which the youngsters could learn and take home to play for their families. Jin and Mike then engaged in a “conversation” between their unique instruments, Jin’s being the gym floor, her feet, and her ghungroo, and Mike’s his singing drum, creating a complex and captivating plethora of sounds. The program concluded with Jin performing 25 dizzying yet fluid spins, earning appreciative applause from the young audience.
In a testament to the positive impression made by the performance, the brief question and answer session that followed was opened by a youngster asking “Why are you so good?” The answer was, of course, “a lot of training and much practice,” offering another positive message along with the intended one of fostering familiarity with Indian culture and art in order to promote living harmoniously with others in this diverse world.
Art communicates across many boundaries, and is not limited by language, race, or nationality. “Kathakaar: The Spinning Storyteller” opened young eyes to the radiant culture of a faraway land in an accessible, enjoyable, and memorable manner, fulfilling the mission of DCCA’s Arts In Education program to enrich young lives through the arts.