Lakshmi Babu cherishes her memories of celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Light, as a young girl growing up in India.
The five-day festival gets its name from the clay lamps that Indians light to symbolize the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness. But the way Babu recalls it, fireworks played an even greater role in the festivities.
“You can’t imagine it,” said the Germantown resident. “We would spend all the money we had on buying fireworks — so that money was burned up, literally. I’d wake up at 5 a.m. to set off fireworks, just to be the first in my neighborhood.”
On the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 20, a taste of India’s most important festival will find a new home at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. Its first-ever Diwali Festival will feature a dance performance and a fashion show as well as food, vendors selling crafts and gift items — all with an exotic Indian flair.
Alas, there will be no fireworks shooting into the sky, said Brad Watkins, BlackRock’s artistic director. But the afternoon’s finale promises to delight, he said.
“It’s challenging, there’s no doubt, to do a culturally-based festival that encompasses a lot of traditions,” Watkins said. “While we can’t offer fireworks, we’ll end the event in a way that celebrates and creates light.”
BlackRock recruited Babu as a Creative Consortium Partner, working closely with her to ensure authenticity. She founded and directs the Kuchipudi Dance Academy, a traditional Indian dance school in Germantown.
“We trade assets with partners, giving them space to perform, and marketing and ticketing capacity — and they bring us a great cross-cultural experience for all to share,” Watkins said.
The festival opens at 3 p.m. with a Holiday Bazaar that is open to all. Vendors will sell Indian-inspired clothes, as well as colorful, traditional items directly from India. “There will be jewelry, things for the house and, of course, Indian fast food. It’ll be a good place to start Christmas shopping,” Babu said.
At 4 p.m., the Kuchipudi Dance Academy will perform a dance that tells the story of a mystical sage renowned for promoting scientific theories and the study of genetics. “The sage was born outside of a woman in a clay pot, so I say he was the original test tube baby,” Babu said. “This story celebrates the forces of good winning out over evil. That’s what Diwali is, a thanksgiving that good wins over evil.”
Twenty-eight dancers, ages 10 to 45, will perform in colorful silk costumes. An English translation will run during the performance. (Tickets range from $30 to $45.)
Among the dancers will be Laasya Brahmandam, a freshman at Northwest High School in Germantown. She’s excited to share a dance form she has studied since early childhood with the community. “Dancing for me has become a way to express myself,” she said. “When I feel down or sad, it’s become my happy zone.”
Her pink silk costume is as bright as a butterfly, but that’s where butterflies now belong. “Before it was nerve-wracking, I was so afraid I’d mess up on stage,” Brahmandam said. “Now, so many friends tell me I’m a good dancer, so it’s exciting to perform.”
At 6 p.m., an Indian Fashion Show will feature traditional wear as well as current fashions. (Tickets are $20.) “You may think, oh, it’s just a sari.,” Babu said. “But a sari can be tied 300 different ways, and the fabrics are so varied.”
The day will conclude with a 7 p.m. “Outdoor Festival of Light” finale to which admission is free. Plans include Bollywood-style dancers from Clarksburg High School and the lighting of lamps.
“I’m an old theater guy, but I’m excited to see how this plays out,” Watkins said of the new venture. “BlackRock has the ability to become an intersection for our diverse community. Little by little, we’ll find a way to embrace all our cultures.”
The Diwali Festival will run from 3 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901Town Commons Drive, Germantown. To learn more or buy tickets for the dance and fashion shows, visit www.blackrockcenter.org or call 301-528-2260.