Dhvani: The Music of India
Friday (October 8), 7:30pm, Montessori School of Maui auditorium, 2933 Baldwin Ave., Makawao, $15
“What’s nice about doing something traditional is that we’ve been preparing for it since the beginning of our training,” says Sarala Dandekar, with the small hand gestures that so often accompany her speech, evidence of her life as a dancer.
Dandekar began studying Indian dance as a toddler and started performing at age six, and now has a Master’s degree in Dance Ethnology from Toronto’s York University. Upon moving to Maui six years ago, at the behest of her dance guru (though she doesn’t much like to use the term “guru,” as she says it’s become diluted and misunderstood in recent years), she began a school to teach traditional Indian dance—particularly in the style of Odissi, which originated in the temples of North India as a form of specialized prayer. Alongside two of her experienced students, Akari Ueoka and Malati Carano, she will perform on Friday at the newly built Montessori Auditorium, with famed World music drummer Ty Burhoe on tabla (drum), accompanied by Steve Oda on sarode (stringed instrument).
“Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been accompanying dancers—whether that be modern dance or ballet,” says Burhoe. “It’s a visual expression of what I’m doing sonically. It gives the eyes a form to witness what I’m trying to express.”
Burhoe—who has a pervasively relaxed tone and classic personal style—is considered one of the preeminent tabla drummers of the day, having trained under the great maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain since 1990. Tabla is “the most complex drum on the planet—without equal,” says Burhoe, adding that an octave of notes can be produced with this special drum that is as much melodic as it is percussive.
“It wasn’t until after 30 years of playing my instrument that I began accompanying South Indian dance, which is what Sarala started training in,” Burhoe says.
Laughing, Dandekar says that while she loves South Indian dance, she “took her training and fled” to the study of the North Indian style in her early 20s—and the difference between North and South Indian music is wide.
“When I first saw Odissi dance [in North Indian style], I saw a dance form that, to me, really embodied the music,” she says. “It really felt like I was seeing what that music was and the beauty of that music. It reverberated to me on a very personal level.”
“North Indian music was heavily influenced by Moguls. The Persian influence brought in a whole different sense of how to approach the melody,” explains Burhoe. Where South Indian music is “very set” and “very memorized,” he says, North Indian is more improvisational.
“Mood-wise,” Dandekar chimes, “South Indian music has less sustained, lingering, sort of stretched-out notes. It’s got more of an upbeat, colorful, playful feel to it—which the dance definitely reflects. North Indian music can be more quietly moving, and pulls you in in a more mesmerizing way.”
As unique as this traditional Indian concert is for Maui audiences, it’s as unique for this pair of performers, and it’s clear that they love to delve into the theories behind their art and have a shared commitment to craft and spirituality.
“Before I met Ty, I’d resigned myself to the thought that, while Maui is a beautiful place to live, I wouldn’t have the live music to accompany my dance,” Dandekar says. “To find someone at that level of training in this music is not common here.”
Burhoe, who splits his time between Colorado, Maui and Japan, adds, “For me to find Sarala here on the island is really a treat. It’s not that she just dances, but she’s a high level dancer and teacher.”
Another special aspect of Friday’s concert, the pair says, is that it will be a community christening of sorts for the new auditorium at the Montessori School of Maui. What Burhoe and Dandekar find exciting is that the facility was designed and constructed sustainably. They explain that, sometimes, artists have to pour energy into transforming the feel of a space, but in a place that’s built consciously that isn’t necessary.
Dandekar also emphasizes that, while not part of the Western paradigm, it’s normal for Indian music concerts to be followed by a Q&A talk-story session, where audience members are encouraged to engage the performers. “Indian music entirely obliterates the fourth wall,” she says. Burhoe adds that with World music, food is nearly requisite. For Friday’s show, Kihei’s Monsoon India restaurant will cater a traditional Indian meal with desserts and chai.
“Live performance is an endangered species,” says Dandekar. “The importance of live performance is that it’s a collective experience, a shared spectacle.” Burhoe smiles in agreement, adding a quote from one of his notable collaborators, Ram Dass, “It’s heart-to-heart resuscitation.”