Nayikas Dance Theatre Company - Samita the Infinite Within
The Indo American Arts Council
Aroon Shivdasani, Executive Director
In association with
The Baruch Performing Arts Center
25th Street and Lexington Avenue (entrance on 25th street)
New York, NY
Choreographer: Myna Mukherjee
Dancers: Myna Mukherjee, Sunonda Samaddar, Aditi Dhruv, Anurima Banerji, Zidana Bell, Maria Chaudhuri, Crystal Davis, Neha Anada
January 28, 2004
The almost full house at the Baruch Performing Arts Center was treated to an evening of Odissi, an Indian dance tradition dating from the 2nd Century BC. The dances presented included classical works and a modern dance with strong Odissi influence.
While some classical ballet is one part pure dance and one part mime, Odissi fuses pure dance and mime into a single symbolic language. Like any language, those who grew up watching it and hearing the stories it portrays will get more nuance from the performance than those who have not, but as with any rich arts tradition performed well, Nayikas' performance is likely to speak to you on some level even if you are not of South Asian descent.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Khaksouri
MangalaCharan - Tandava
An Odissi performances normally opens with a Mangalacharan, a classical performance which invokes the blessings of the deity. This traditional dance began with stark lighting and narration in English. The light brightened and the narration faded away, leaving just dance. The dancers danced like water flowing over a rock while also being the rock.
Faces of a Name
This work was a modern dance with Odissi roots. It is based on the story of Chitrangada, a warrior princess. Chitrangada falls in love with Arjuna, who has conventional ideas about feminine beauty. Chitrangada is one of these mythic characters with a special connection to the divine, so when she asks for a gift of feminine virtues and beauty for a year, her wish is granted. The dance plays with the conflict inside of Chitrangada, as well as the conflict between her and Arjuna.
The choreography was set to modern, rhythmic music. The choreography used both languid and rhythmic movements. I liked the way that meaning was submerged under the abstract dance. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I thought it could be favorably paired with Oblivion.
I also think, however, that Faces of a Name could be tightened a little. I say this because when I observed the dance, I got the distinct impression that Chitrangada had in the end submitted to the conflict and Arjuna's preconceptions. The program notes indicate that the story ends by Chitrangada demanding the right to be an equal to Arjuna and Arjuna accepting this demand. If that is the message that Nayikas intended to convey, and I think it is an important message to be conveyed, especially by an all-women dance company, then they ought to survey their audience to make sure it is getting across. If they can find an image that sears that message into the audience, especially a non-South Asian audience, they will have objective proof that the choreography works as intended. (Obviously, audience research with a South Asian audience would be important too, but the non-South Asian audience presents the more difficult choreographic challenge since such an audience is unlikely to know the Chitrangada story well, and is thus unlikely to "fill in" meanings the way a South Asian audience might.)
My other suggestion, more for fun than anything else since the existing choreography is already quite good, is to try to craft a dance that tells the same story, but using other dance styles as a base. Some of the music used in Faces of a Name was clearly conducive to Hustle. Creating an accurate depiction of a conflicted mind is never easy, but I am sure Ms. Mukherjee could make a substantive contribution to the science of mental health by creating choreography that combines Odissi, Hustle, Modern dance and Bhangra.
Pallavi - Kedar Kaumadee
This was another classical work. There was a faint scent of incense in the air. The dance was formal in style, but the dancers were clearly happy to be dancing. This is exactly what I like to see in a dance, be it an abstract or story dance. Technique can be a framework from which the dancers can let their emotions relax and shine forth.
This work started with some of the dancers dancing with lit incense. I thought it used a very appealing balance between mime and abstraction as it presented and then elaborated on the ten primal forms of feminine energy, known collectively as the Das Mahavidyas in the Tantric Hindu pantheon. I also thought, at the time, that the work presented ideas which are similar to some of the recent convergences of physics and meta-physics at the sub-atomic level. That's what my notes say. Unfortunately, I can't remember exactly to what this was referring. Hopefully, I will see this dance again and figure out what I meant. Like dance itself, subjective linguistic transference (aka dance criticism) is sometimes a work in progress.
Mokshya & Shloka
This final dance was energetic. There were many spins performed on the ball of one foot with the foot raised about a 40 degree angle from the floor. The final image of the dancers was like a tree viewed from its base, which is appropriate for a dance whose traditional role is to ask for peace on earth and for all living and created things.
Tonight's performances had a consistent high quality any South Asian New Yorker could be proud of. If you are not South Asian and are looking for great dance and an accessible introduction to Indian culture, Nayikas Dance Theatre Company is an excellent group with which to journey. Nayikas was presented as part of the MELA/South Asian Festival.
For more on Indian dance, check out ExploreDance.com's Indian dance index page.