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Tongues Untied

by Marian Horosko
April 25, 2010
Symphony Space
2537 Broadway
New York, NY 10025
(212) 864-1414
The South Asian Dance Festival, presented as "Tongues Untied" was showcased at the Symphony Space theater, April 24 and 25 by Engendered, an annual transnational arts and human rights organization dedicated to "explore the complex realities of gender and sexuality in modern South Asia, especially at the intersection of ritual and religion" and much more. "Rasa, the Essence" was performed at Lincoln Center, exploring the sensuality, divinity and mythology of South Asian traditions.

Asian dance belongs in the general category of percussive dance, a form in which sound (accompanied with or without instruments) is an integral part of the performance. The choreography for some of these dances was first written on clay tablets centuries ago. The dances reflect their geographical and ideological interests: religion, ritual, nature, story-telling. The gigantic festival included panels, lecture demonstrations, master classes and workshops.

Physically performed in a squat position…knees bent sideways, feet flat on the floor except when a transfer of weight is required, Asian dance is projected frontally, moves side to side and employs difficult balances. There is little jumping except in an occasional fast exit. Although the choreography is historic, there has been plenty of room for innovation and creativity.

The program opened with a Nautch folk dance dedicated to Sufi, Qalandar. Using Kathak and Kuchipudi forms, the dances include the pose, Shiva, the Lord of Dance, which is familiar to Westerners seen in museums depicted in bronze or clay with multiple arms, standing on one foot.

The program also included a work in Bharatanatyam contemporary form…a dance of bereavement and unbearable loss. It had banjo, violin and tabla accompaniment.

Lyrical Odissi, performed by an excellent group, Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, revealed the lanquid and and sensuous realms of the form. Choreographer Nighat Chaodry, in Kathak form exhibited fluid pirouettes (what the West would call paddle turns: one foot held flat for balance as the other foot propels the revolutions.)

Asian artists are not new to the West: Uday Shankar produced Hindu plays that the immortal Anna Pavlova saw and admired. She collaborated with him to produce her ballet "Radha Krishna." Uday performed throughout the world as did Ravi Shankar, a heart throb, known to Europe and America on the level of a rock-star. Asian dance forms were incorporated in the vaudeville productions of Ted Shawn at the turn of the century and evolved into a basic part of our modern dance technique.

While Asian dance may seem remote, the appeal of the dancers, the vivid costuming and the hypnotic appeal of its mythology begs for more performances.
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