Nrityagram Dance Ensemble

April 12, 2005

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble
Photo by Terry Shapiro

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble
Joyce Theater, New York, NY

April 12–17, 2005

Adishakti Theatre Company

Asia Society, New York, NY

April 15–17, 2005

Reviewed by Cynthia Hedstrom


Two contemporary Indian companies vividly embodied 2,000-year-old texts and 2nd-century sculptures during an April chock-full of New York City performances by Indian groups.

The voluptuous sculpted figures that cover the facades of many Hindu temples informed the choreography of artistic director Surupa Sen for the Nrityagram Ensemble. Steeped in the sinuous and sharp, on-the-beat classical technique of Odissi, the program included both pure dance and abhinaya (mimetic storytelling), which unfolded like facets within a kaleidoscope. Starting from the postures of the ancient statues, the five dancers brought the stone images to Technicolor life, bright and luscious in their bejeweled, garlanded, and color-saturated saris. Weight settled in cocked hips, arms sliced the air with elbows arched high, articulate fingers flashed, eyes darted flirtatiously, and feet slapped the floor or rolled sensuously to reveal the inner arch. The movement is codified, repetitive, and precise. Yet only when the performance went beyond mere presentation, notably by the ecstatic Bijayini Satpathy, did the ancient become contemporary, radiant with the metaphysical and erotic play within Hindu tradition.

, by the Adishakti Company, stripped the performance to its bare essentials. With no set or other visuals, Vinay Kumar, dressed only in an undergarment, and four accompanying musicians evoked a vibrantly colorful phantasmagoria of characters and deities. Written, choreographed, and directed by Veenapani Chawla, the evening-length piece was based on a creation myth from the Mahabharata that tells of the origin of polarities—right/left, time/space, self/other. At the climatic moment, the world of duality is joined in a vision of unification. Kumar literally flipped, feet in air, between the two main characters, a tiger and a dog, and slipped like an apparition into the extreme postures of the incarnated gods and goddesses. (He can shoot a mean heavenly arrow.) Kumar’s physical and verbal prowess was astounding, as his body articulated the subtle allure of the female, the ferocious effort of war, the crushing, breath-choking sadness of death, and the exaggerated facial and gestural comedy of the dog and the tiger. Throughout Kumar playfully revealed the dualities of the piece—esoteric/banal, male/female, ancient/pop. Heady stuff, but sassy, fun, and crystal clear in its metaphorical intent.

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