A Bay Area institution with a rich, 30-plus year history, the Abhinaya Dance Company nurtures dancers in Bharatanatyam, a form of classical dance from southern India. The company’s fall concert, Jwala – the Immortal Flame, playing on Saturday, November 19 at the McAfee Theatre, is a celebration of fire and its dual powers of both creation and destruction.

“In Hindu mythology, fire is sacred,” says Rasika Kumar, Abhinaya’s associate director and the choreographer and principle dancer of Jwala. “It’s the initial connection between humans and god. All Hindu proceedings start with the fire.”

Combining traditional music, dance and mytholology, classical Indian dance differs from Western dance in that it uses specific, recognizable gestures to convey stories.

“Bharatanatyam is split up into two parts,” says Kumar. “The first is the pure movements
and the second is the storytelling aspect. Man, woman, heat, anger, love are all specific gestures. With these tools,” she continues, “the ability to tell any story is possible.”

Founded in 1980 by Kumar’s mother, Mythili Kumar, Abhinaya is a company committed to furthering its understanding of traditional dance, music and mythology through the unending pursuit of perfection.

“My mom has been able to instill never-ending progress in her students,” says Kumar. “Discipline and the constant striving for perfection is her mantra; that’s who she is. I would attribute the success of the company to that drive and the striving for success from her.”

With a vision to preserve and share the beauty of Indian traditional arts, Abhinaya is also adept at using traditional methods to tell modern-day stories. Jwala features not only mythological stories, but also contemporary ones, exploring familiar themes such as the devastation of a forest fire, using the boundaries of the tradition as a platform for innovation.

“The dance itself teaches us the mythology, the history and the music,” says Kumar. “There is an ancient hymn that we say about dance: Where the hand goes, the eye follows; where the eye goes, the mind follows; where the mind goes, the mood follows; and there the aesthetic is born.”

Get Tickets and More Info on Jwala – the Immortal Flame