South-Asian Classical/Contemporary @ LaMama Moves

Queen’s based artist Malini Srinivasan guest-curated a South-Asian Classical/Contemporary Dance program for the LaMama Moves Festival.  The diverse program, in the Ellen Stewart Theatre at The Annex, included works by artists all working from the classical Indian form Bharatanatyam.  While keeping her eye on the form she is trained in, Srinivasan managed to cast an expansive gaze across aesthetic and stylistic approaches.  The fundamental components of adavus (basic steps – meaning both footwork and the rest of the body), hasta mudras (hand gestures), bedhas (head, neck, and eye movements), as well, as a sense of rhythmic play and devotional origins could be found inside each work, but the artistic visions were greatly varied. The overall impact is that the form is alive and well, both in maintaining traditional practice and in reaching across boundaries.

Hari Krishnan opened the program with a lengthy selection of dances from “The King’s Salon.” His “Mandori Shabdam” solo was a charming highlight, with the choreographer showing off his gendered deconstruction of Devadasi dance with great flair.  It’s a bit cheeky, I know, but I think he’s pioneering a new form for modern day Diva-dasis.  He maintained an assured panache that oozed joy.  This level of self-enjoyment is most apparent in an artist who has devoted himself to specific study while willingly employing a playful grasp of the material.  While Nalin Bisnath and Hiroshi Miyamoto, members of his troupe inDANCE, performed admirably, their smiles felt like those of entertainers while his carried the ecstasy of an acolyte.

Preeti Vasudevan showed “Past Present,” a work that carried the most obvious trappings of contemporary dance.  Following the complex musical structures and vibrancy of the previous work, we were very clearly asked to shift aesthetics when Hsiao-Jou Tang appears dancing silently in a downlit pool.  She is joined by Lauren Ohmer and the two women dance through the duet with strong technical skill and presence.  There are deep knee bends, kapitta hastas, stomping, and the half-seated ardhamandala (something like ballet’s second position plie) to reference Bharatanatyam’s fundamental vocabularies, but the sense is strongly a classical, Western one.

Aparna Sindhoor’s “A Story and a Song” is a delightful, light-hearted collection of far-flung influences.  Drawing on folklore from Kannada (a southern Indian language), Native American tales and contemporary women’s narratives, the work uses live song, comedy, kalaripayatt (a southern Indian martial art form), aerial fabric work, Yoga, dance, and good-old-fashioned storytelling to delve into love.  In the context of the evening (and the festival), the dance sometimes felt incidental, with the engaging performers’ playful repartee and the continuing, developing narrative taking over, but it reminded me of how delightful it was to discover – several years ago as a member of a Ford Foundation supported contingent of Asian American artists – at the Asian Women’s Theater Conference in New Delhi, that in India theater has not been divorced from dance.  Sindhoor and her cast bring the disparate elements together in witty and simply satisfying ways.

Srinivasan’s trio “Dusk,” was more meditative prelude than completed work.  By the time the idea had established itself, the three women were slowly disappearing into the wings.  It was a compelling start that mostly highlighted the choreographer’s maturity as a performer.  Her ability to exude calm while moving smoothly through the space drew our attention to the simple, sinewy rippling of a hand.  It also revealed the challenge of “settling,” of dropping one’s energy signature to reflect a focused serenity, for the other two dancers who handled the slowness with different levels of ease.

The evening closed with Srinivasan’s virtuosic performance of Sri CV Chandrasekhar’s “Sankara Rudra,” an extremely vigorous piece filled with demanding one-legged balances, complex rhythmic play, and rapidly changing facial expressions.  Srinivasan’s performance displayed a rigorous commitment to refining her practice, showing the difference between executing, or even mastering, steps and articulating every part of the body like a flame.  She employs a subtle richness in each gesture, each focus shift, each fiery depiction of Shiva that quickly turns into a benevolent anjali hasta (prayer hands). Despite the many efforts at innovation, the rousing closing number revealed the satisfaction of a watching a practitioner deeply invested in following a form to its heart.

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