With a whirlwind of color, choreography and music, the South Asian Arts & Theater House (SAATH) brought the stage to life with a recent performance at the Cowles Center (528 Hennepin Ave.) to celebrate trans joy.
SAATH presented the dance drama Acceptance, Kindness, Support (AKS), a story told primarily in dance about the challenges facing members of the LGBTQ community. Performed in four acts, a cast of over 70 engaged in dance and acting to tell the audience about the day-to-day rejections from family and others when they try to be themselves.
“This is especially a topic that South Asians particularly shy away from, and we want to make sure it’s a comfortable space for everyone to learn and grow,” stated SAATH Board Member Vandana Sharma.
Act 1 focuses on the dancer, a person who was born male but strives to live as a woman. The mother thinks it is a phase her child may be going through but the father wants the child out of the house.
The warrior is the title of Act 2. Powerful dance sequences reflect the struggle to be who you are.
Act 3, the dreamer, shows how acceptance can make one feel. The importance of connecting with others is emphasized in this act.
The final act points out the morality and rules imposed on everyone, allowing no one to march to a different drummer. But a mirror, present in each act, serves to provide a sense of freedom and confidence to the individuals who look at it, and in the end acceptance, kindness and support prevail.
The show’s superb technical work, with lighting and backgrounds, complemented the dancers’ movements.
The presentation of AKS is a reflection of SAATH, an organization that offers acceptance, kindness and support to all who participate in its classes and programs.
“SAATH’s core mission is to celebrate diversity and foster social harmony through the joyful mediums of dance, performing arts and South Asian cultural heritage,” said Sharma. “At SAATH, we are dedicated to achieving artistic excellence and making a positive impact within our community.”
SAATH, which in Hindi and other Indian languages means togetherness, was founded in 2012 by three dancers. At that time it was known as Bollywood Dance Scene and classes were taught at Tapestry Folkdance Center (3748 Minnehaha Ave.). In 2014, they produced a 50+ member cast show called “Hi! Hello! Namaste?”. It was the first Bollywood dance drama ever performed at the Minnesota Fringe Festival and became the highest selling show of the festival.
“We originally started the program with the art form of dance,” Sharma said. “We began with our weekly dance classes. We then expanded to include acting, improv shows and fashion shows allowing local designers to create clothes while incorporating Bollywood music and dance along with a runway walk.
“We also hosted dance competitions with the twist that competitors had to dance to South Asian music. And we have produced story-telling shows,” Sharma said. “Our dances are primarily South Asian, but we do infuse a fusion element if the music is Western.”
Sharma explained that promoting dance as a way for folks from different backgrounds to connect is a fantastic idea. “Dance is like a universal language that brings people together, and at SAATH we are about being inclusive,” she stated. “Many of our members join us because they are looking to make new friends and be part of a community and dance, especially Bollywood dance, is a fun and easy way to connect.”
Sharma said it has been an incredible experience watching the evolution of SAATH’s performers. “There is a reason why we refer to our group as the SAATH family,” she said, “as it has truly become a close-knit community. Many of our members are immigrants who have found a family here. Some have even found life partners within the group, and a few have started families of their own.” She added that SAATH has also provided a platform for its community members to take on leadership roles.
“This is a 100 percent volunteer-run organization, so we depend on the support of our community to continue the important work we do.”
She encouraged people of any race, age, gender identity or sexual preference to join SAATH.
In-person drop-in classes are every Thursday from 7-8:30 p.m. at Studio Time Out (6001 Lyndale Ave. S.).
SAATH is led by Executive Director Divya Maiya and board members: President Jinal Vakil, Vice President Narasimhamurthy Kulgod, Treasurer Madhu Bangalore, Secretary Srivani Harish, Stephanie Alexander, Nikita Basandra, Jeanette Chalgren, Jarrod Downy-Beard, Gopal Haregopappa, Darshan Maiya, Gautham Raja, Niyotha Reddy, Prachi Sansare, Vandana Sharma, Arun Velliangiri, and Allison Verma.