Classical Indian dance ballet retells old folk tale

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It's an old, old folk story in India - demon gains power from Hindu god, demon causes havoc in world, Hindu god creates a warrior to slay the demon.

"Karthikeya: Son of Shiva" will be presented in the Art Fuller Auditorium at Kennewick High School, 500 S. Dayton St., on Sunday. Doors open at 6 p.m.

The classical Indian dance ballet is being produced by Niraja Ganesan of Arpana Arts Academy in the Tri-Cities. The story of Karthikeya, a warrior prince, is told through dancers, elaborate costumes, bright colors, intricate rhythms and live music.

This is the studio founder's second major production, Ganesan said on a publicity swing through Walla Walla this week. She's found the Indian community in the Tri-Cities hungry for its own culture and is now reaching out to non-Indian audiences.

"I'm getting a pretty good response," she said.

Ganesan arrived in America seven years ago, at age 23, after tying the knot in an arranged marriage.

"We did have a choice," she said. "But we chose to follow tradition."

She and her husband came to the area from India as an engineer and scientist, working for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. After having two sons, now ages 4 and 2, Ganesan longed to return to her childhood love of dance.

"My husband is really supportive of it," she said. "He thinks I have an expensive hobby, like golf."

Ganesan is a trained classical dancer, starting at the age of 5 in Srirangam Bharatanatyalaya, a renowned dance company based in Southern India. She began performing two years later in elaborate dance ballets.

By the time she was 16, Ganesan had performed more than 700 times in India and abroad and was training younger students, as well as choreographing pieces in the ballets.

Her family has funded each production, which includes importing costumes from India, hiring the auditorium and creating the traditional Indian foods that are available for sale during intermission.

Ganesan, drawing from her dance experiences, has choreographed "Karthikeya," a productions she's performed in many times, she said.

Rather than bring in professional dancers - although she does use some professional musicians - it was more important to allow her students to take the stage.

"These kids have been learning this. I wanted to make it community-based."

She believes giving young children an opportunity to perform is essential to developing confidence, Ganesan said, which exposes them to the true essence of the art form: "The ability to lose oneself in a character, connect with the audience, and effectively convey a story."

At the production, the master of ceremonies will tell the story in English as dancers perform. Visit www.arpanaarts.com or call 509-967-9674.

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