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SARVAVIDYA DANCE ENSEMBLE

Bhūmi: Upcoming production by Indian classical dance company raises climate crisis awareness

Bhūmi: Upcoming production by Indian classical dance company raises climate crisis awareness
Dancers of Sarvavidya Natyalaaya performing at their 2019 production, titled Shree: I Am Shakti (Photo: Supplied)

So, human, before you swing that axe, know that my plea is not for self-preservation, but for a deeper understanding – a plea for you to recognise the interconnectedness of all things, the sacredness of life in all its forms. For in that understanding lies the hope for a future where trees, humans and all living beings coexist in harmony, where the echoes of our intertwined existence resound through the ages. Chop me down. I will regenerate. You may not.

Art, music and dance have always had the remarkable ability to transcend language barriers, evoke emotions and ignite meaningful conversations. 

Through artistic expression, we have the opportunity to challenge societal norms, raise awareness and inspire collective action – which is what the  Sarvavidya Dance Ensemble (SDE) is aiming to do with its latest production, titled Bhūmi (pronounced “bhoo-mee”), at the Joburg Theatre from 23-25 June 2023.

SDE is the professional wing of Sarvavidya Natyaalaya – a community dance school that was founded in and is still currently based in Lenasia, Johannesburg, that teaches the Indian classical style of Bharatanatyam. 

Under the stewardship of its founding teachers – Anusha Pillay, Reshma Chhiba and Panna Dullabh – the dance school and professional company have an impressive repertoire, with past performances focusing on Hindu mythology as well as social issues such as gender-based violence. 

Their latest production, Bhūmi, a Sanskrit word for “Earth”, hopes to harness the expressive power of Bharatanatyam to raise awareness about the urgent effects of the climate crisis. The dance unfolds a story centred around a sentient tree that both observes and falls victim to humanity’s destructive behaviour and pleads for compassion and a renewal of human empathy with each other and our environment. 

The tree laments:

“Human, before you swing that axe, know that my plea is not for self-preservation, but for a deeper understanding – a plea for you to recognise the interconnectedness of all things, the sacredness of life in all its forms. For in that understanding lies the hope for a future where trees, humans and all living beings coexist in harmony, where the echoes of our intertwined existence resound through the ages. Chop me down. I will regenerate. You may not.”

Using both storytelling and abstract movement (both are features of the style of Bharatanatyam), it explores the delicate balance between humanity and nature, encouraging audiences to reflect on their role in preserving the planet that we call home. 

“This production aims to be an awakening, provoking thought and hopefully igniting individual action to combat the climate crisis,” says  Anusha Pillay, artistic director. 

“As the audience witnesses the stories unfolding on the stage, we hope that they are inspired to take meaningful steps towards preserving our planet for current and future generations.”

As veteran activist Kumi Naidoo is arguing, in the face of the urgent climate crisis, “artivism” – the merging of art and activism – is a powerful mobiliser for environmental advocacy and change. In keeping with this, Naidoo and Louisa Zondo have recently established the Riky Rick Foundation for the Promotion of Artivism

SDE’s vision, through Bhūmi and other works, is to expand the vocabulary of Bharatanatyam in contemporary South Africa, and simultaneously render it visible and accessible to audiences who are not familiar with its form. 

“This production allows us to explore our praxis as a form of social justice, which is one of the core focus areas of our work,” says Reshma Chhiba, creative director.

“Through dance, we hope to use creative practice to inspire social change in our society.”

Each performance will be followed by a reflection and discussions with prominent climate justice activists in South Africa, including Kumi Naidoo and Louisa Zondo. DM

Bhūmi | Earth is being performed from 23 to 25 June 2023 at 7pm (Fri and Sat) and 3pm (Sun) at the Joburg Theatre. Tickets are R150 per person – available at www.joburgtheatre.com www.webtickets.com or call 0861 670 670. For more information email: [email protected]

To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.

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