Wesleyan Celebrates 47th Annual Navaratri Festival

Andrew ChatfieldOctober 11, 20237min

Wesleyan’s annual Navaratri Festival celebrated the diversity of Indian music and dance from October 5 through October 8, 2023.

“Over its 47 years, our festival continues to widen representation, to expand the classical canon of Indian arts and who is allowed to perform it, and to rigorously engage with South Asian culture through a creative lens,” said Fiona Coffey, Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts.

Coffey mentioned Wesleyan’s new major as part of the Global South Asian Studies program, which offers students opportunities to explore the cultures connected to the region through a diverse set of disciplines. ”We’re incredibly excited about that,” Coffey said.

Wesleyan’s Navaratri Festival is presented by the Center for the Arts, Music Department, and Dance Department, with leadership support from the Madhu Reddy Endowed Fund for Indian Music and Dance at Wesleyan University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The festival’s three performances began with the Connecticut debut of the Akkarai Sisters
on Friday evening, featuring their interpretations of classical Karnatak (South Indian) violin and vocal duets.
On Saturday night, the festival featured the world premiere of “Pīlu,” a project developed at Wesleyan by North Indian sarangi (bowed string instrument) master and Ph.D. candidate Suhail Yusuf Khan MA ’18.
After his opening 20-minute solo invocation, Khan was joined by phenomenal tabla player Vishal Nagar, a close associate of Khan’s musical and academic journey, for a 25 minute-performance of “Rāg Puriā Kalyān.”
Khan and California-native guitarist and songwriter Henry Hodder ’20 performed a 40-minute duo set featuring the tunes from their forthcoming debut EP “Soon.” Two of the tunes have already been released on Apple Music and Spotify. “This show is very special to me,” Coffey said when introducing Khan, who had reached out to her in the spring of 2021 to ask if he and Hodder could work and record in World Music Hall that summer to finish Hodder’s project. Hodder’s senior tutorial at Wesleyan, “Music and Mysticism of the Indian Subcontinent,” was directed by Khan. Hodder received a BA in English. Khan praised Hodder’s interesting harmony arrangements and counter-melodies on guitar. “He gets an A,” Khan said.
Nagar joined Khan and Hodder to close the evening with a 15-minute set of tunes in a contemporary style they call “sarangi futurism.”
The festival concluded with another Connecticut debut performance, a Sunday afternoon matinee by Kathak (North Indian classical) dancer Jin Won. Originally from South Korea, she spent over fifteen years training in India. She started her performance with the premiere of the 20-minute solo work “Nolpan: Khoj.” Professor of Dance, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Global South Asian Studies Hari Krishnan introduced Won’s performance, highlighting Wesleyan’s continued efforts to enable South Asian dance and music to be accessible, entertaining, and educational in the context of a liberal arts environment. “Jin Won, influenced by her transnational identity spanning from East Asia to South Asia to the United States, embodies a highly personalized representation of Indian dance which speaks urgently to the here and now,” Krishnan said.
Won’s second work “Nritta” spanned 45 minutes, and started with slow and graceful movements.
Accompanied by Mike Lukshis on tabla and Rohan Misra on sarangi, Won’s dance piece progressively built up to become faster and more dynamic as she marked rhythmic accents in unison with the tabla with her feet, and then her whole body. “The dancer plays music with the body,” Won said.
Won’s performance was interactive and fun, as she encouraged the audience to express their emotions in reaction to her dancing. Between each section of her dance, Won, who is also a tabla player, would demonstrate solkattu (spoken rhythm) phrases in a sixteen-beat rhythmic cycle. She taught the audience how to count in Hindi and clap along to increasingly complex phrases before dancing each part of the composition.

Photo credits:

All images courtesy of Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts.
Images 1,2: photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
Images 3,4,5,6: photos by Tom Dzimian.
Images 7,8,9,10: photos by Mark Brendel of Perceptions Photography.