South Indian film actress Shobana

Just as there is an almost infinite number of Hindu gods, there’s also a bewildering variety of Indian dance styles, from highly classical modes, to regional folk traditions, to the exuberant, anything-goes moves on display in Bollywood films. But though it may not be obvious to the casual viewer, they all share a common origin in the sacred rituals performed at Hindu temples. “In the ancient world, temples were the places that nurtured the arts,” said Hari Dayal, the executive director of the Indo-American Association of Houston. “So that’s why in Indian dances you see so many stories about gods—they are extremely common.” 

Shobana’s Krishna

May 22 at 8. $31–121. Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.

This month, the mononymic South Indian film actress Shobana, who has appeared in over 200 films and won two National Film Awards—the Indian equivalent of the Oscars—brings her own twist on the tradition of Indian dance to Houston. Shobana’s English-language dance drama Krishna, which she choreographed and stars in, uses a blend of regional and historical dance styles to tell the story of Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu and one of the protagonists of the Bhagavad Gita. “Most Indians are in love with Krishna—he’s known to be a harbinger of all good things to come,” Shobana told me. “He’s also a charmer, a lover with countless paramours.” 

The eclectic dancing in the show will be accompanied by live music from a similarly diverse range of traditions, from Hindustani and Carnatic classical music to the contemporary, electronica-influenced film scores of A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire). Shobana has taken the show around the world, Houston being one of the last stops on an 18-city US tour.

If anyone is qualified to unite India’s various traditions, and its far-flung diaspora—including the approximately 114,000 Indo-Americans living in the Houston area—it’s Shobana, who has made films in six languages. “She’s really the main attraction of this,” Dayal said. “Of course, all the other dancers are very well-trained and professional, but Shobana is a phenomenon.” 

The way Shobana herself sees it, though, the show’s success has a different source. “Krishna is magic,” she said. “And magic beckons!”

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