Katherine Kunhiraman is one of the West Coast's foremost teachers of classical Indian dance. Like many young people of her era, she went to India as a free-spirited teenager: "My mother said, just let India happen to you, and I did."
There, she fell in love with both her future husband, dance master K.P. Kunhiraman, and the dance discipline he taught. Dreams of becoming an Egyptologist like her uncle Henry, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, were pre-empted. Decades later, Kunhiraman's Berkeley-based Kalanjali troupe draws students from as far away as Sacramento.
Her latest and most ambitious choreographic work, still in progress, is a retelling of the death and resurrection of the Egyptian god Osiris. It is set to pieces from the Carnatic tradition of Indian classical dance, thus mating Kunhiraman's two lifelong passions. In this exacting tradition, each word of what Westerners would call the libretto is expressed in gesture. The costumes, made in India to Kunhiraman's design, are sumptuous and historically accurate.
To Kunhiraman, the combination of Indian medium and Egyptian subject is appropriate and magical. "The ancient Egyptians believed that in their earliest history, Osiris and Isis walked the earth as king and queen, inspiring for all time faith in such ideals as loyalty, the victory of good over evil, and, above all, love, much as Rama and Sita have inspired India across the ages," she said.
Kunhiraman's advanced students will perform the first scene of the dance-drama during her school's annual recital June 12 at the Julia Morgan Theater at 1 p.m.
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