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Navarasa Dance Theatre Turns Misfortune into Magic

by Judith Fein
March 20, 2017
Wise Fool New Mexico
1131 Siler Rd B
Santa Fe, NM 87507
(505) 992-2588
www.wisefoolnewmexico.org
Judith Fein is an award-winning international travel writer, author, speaker, theatre and movement director, and reviewer. Her website is www.GlobalAdventure.us
What would you do if your six-member dance theatre company was embarking on a tour of the USA and Canada and four of the members from India were inexplicably refused visas to the United States? You could panic, cancel, despair….or, you could do what Navarasa Dance Theatre did and find three American and one Romanian dancers who were willing to step in after undergoing an intensive training with dancer/choreographer Dr. Aparna Sindhoor and co-director Anil Natyaveda.

The surprise is how well it worked in a performance March 18 at Wise Fool New Mexico in Santa Fe. Although the performance combines dance, storytelling, singing, yoga, the classical Indian dance forms of Bharatanatyam, martial arts techniques drawn from the ancient Kalari Payattu tradition and Mallakhamb aerial ropes, the four newbies rose to the task with gusto and enthusiasm, even if one or two admitted they hadn’t entirely mastered the complex hand gestures. It was a far cry from the ballet and contemporary dance they had performed before working with Navarasa, but they are all delighted with their newly-acquired skills and are committed to the duration of the tour.

The current show is a tale of women, the environment and love, performed in English and Hindi. It begins when Sindhoor, dressed in white with large, Kohl-lined eyes, is suspended in silks. She sings a song in her native Kannada language, and then begins the story that is the basis of the performance. The audience is humorously warned that if they do not repeat the story to others they will be cursed with having no sex for seven years or, worse yet, bad sex.

What follows, in presentational mode, is the spinning of the story of a girl who has the ability to transform into a tree and produce flowers that her sister can sell at the market to support the family. She tells her sibling that she must take care of the tree, and water it, and then she will produce blossoms and turn back into a woman again.

The sister sells flowers to the queen, and one day the prince sees the flowers, smells their aroma, and cannot find any other flowers like them in the kingdom. He hides outside of the girls’ house, and sees the sister transform into a tree. He instantly falls in love with her, woos her, and weds her.

With the choral-like intervention of the four dancers, Sindhoor and Natyaveda play the married couple, and it is hard to take one’s eyes off his leaping, twisting, foot-thumping movements, and her highly expressive eyes, head, hand, and finger gestures.

The prince wants his wife to turn into a tree for him, and then his entourage clamors to see it too; she reluctantly agrees, with the exhortation about being gentle and taking care of the tree and not crushing even one blossom. Alas, it rains, and the palace folks grab the flowers forcefully and break them and the branches. Sindhoor, suspended upside down from silks, sings sadly about how she is now half tree and half woman, in the middle of a forest. The guilt-ridden prince searches in vain for her, and finally, through love, he finds her and restores her. The subtle and beautiful moment when the duo hang from silks, intertwined like a grafted plant, is unforgettable.

It is a great joy to see how the folk tales, martial arts, classical dance, and gestural system of another culture can be woven with bits of Native American story telling and a huge dollop of creativity and made relevant for an audience today. It is a deep pleasure to watch Natyaveda, swinging acrobatically from a rope, dancing and assuming yoga postures that are familiar to us. And it is a joyful experience to watch the couple expressing their love simply through dramatic, stylized, and often-humorous eye movements. Many dancers and circus performers in the audience were vocal in their enthusiasm, and expressed great interest in the skills involved. After the show, Sindhoor illustrated how one gesture—for example, holding a hand up with all the fingers together– can convey many meanings, depending on the accompanying facial expression.

The rich and often ancient source material—both oral and physical—make the performance textured and layered. One feels that it is grounded and ethereal at the same time, and both literal and lyrical. It is a reminder of the richness of other cultures, and how fortunate we are to be exposed to them.

Navarasa performances are often accompanied by workshops, and it’s a terrific opportunity to expand one’s repertoire and learn a thing or two about storytelling.
the founders of the company and lead performers:<br>Anil Natyaveda and Dr. Aparma Sindhoor

the founders of the company and lead performers:
Anil Natyaveda and Dr. Aparma Sindhoor

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


opening narration song

opening narration song

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


an aerial aspect of the legend as a woman transforms into a flowering tree

an aerial aspect of the legend as a woman transforms into a flowering tree

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


the women of the group, including local dancers who had to learn the techniques<br>and routines in two weeks

the women of the group, including local dancers who had to learn the techniques
and routines in two weeks

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


the full troupe

the full troupe

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross

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