What is it? Acclaimed artist Shantala Shivalingappa performs Kuchipudi, a traditional dance from South India.

Why see it? You’ve never even heard the word Kuchipudi, let alone seen someone dance it. You could go to impress your friends, or you could go because Shivalingappa is internationally known as a graceful dancer of the tradition with its complex rhythmic patterns and footwork.

Who should go? Horizon expansionists, wanderlusters, and anyone with a taste for India. Vogue Paris said, “Shantala’s dance is like the dancing glow of a flame, which enlightens us.” Don’t think any one’s saying that about The Hills‘ Heidi.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $32 • 1 hour and 30 min. • May 23 at 8 p.m.; May 24 at 1 p.m.; May 25 at 9 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100

A World Away: Shantala Shivalingappa brings legendary Indian dance to Spoleto


Let’s get one thing clear: Indian dance is not one thing. The tradition comes from the myriad cultural regions, religions, and ways of life that breed individual forms of dance throughout India. There are in fact eight main forms of folkloric dances and of these Indian-born, European-raised Shantala Shivalingappa will perform one at this year’s Spoleto Festival — Kuchipudi.

“Like all Indian classical dance forms, it is based on the Natya Shastra, a 2,000-year-old treatise on dramatics,” says Shivalingappa on her website. Like most folk practices, Kuchipudi is derived from legend and dates back hundreds of years. The name Kuchipudi comes from the small village in Southern India where it began, worlds away from where the dancer lives now.

Shivalingappa grew up in Paris, but the City of Lights didn’t take away from her cultural roots. Mother and famed choreographer Savitry Nair, enrolled her in dance classes at a young age.

By 15, she was proving adept in her mother’s art. Nair, realizing her daughter’s potential, pushed Shivalingappa to try something new. Nair wanted her daughter to learn Kuchipudi.

“The moment I did, something clicked,” Shivalingappa told Dancing Times. “I realized that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

She’s been performing it ever since.

“Delicate, flexible, and with the bursting energy of her youth, Shantala Shivalingappa rendered a fine Kuchipudi. She brought out the grandeur of a flowing, graceful, joyous dance,” a Paris newspaper gushed. A writer in Antwerp was equally mesmerized: “The incandescent sensuality of the young, Paris-based Shantala Shivalingappa […] electrified the predominantly Belgian audience — I would have defied anyone […] that night not to have responded warmly to her sensational display of kuchipudi dancing.”

A look on YouTube explains it all.

Bouncing, tapping, and pivoting to the drum, Shivalingappa pulls a 1,000-year-old tradition from the past and delivers a dish tempting to modern palates.

Most apparent, however, is the joy she seems to derive from serving up the exotic performance.

“I don’t only dance for myself, but for my musicians and my audience,” she says in Dancing Times. “We are there to share something and be happy, and it doesn’t matter if people don’t understand the story or the significance of certain gestures.”

It’s about sharing cultures and continuing traditions.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.