Finding Spirit and Sound on a Lunch Break

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The New York Sun

Nestled at the base of a mini-canyon of office towers, the Nassau Street flank of the Chase Manhattan Plaza was shaded at noon on Tuesday, making it all the more comfortable for performers and audience members at Battery Dance Company’s Downtown Dance Festival. Unfolding on a temporary stage was a program entitled “Erasing Borders: Festival of Indian Dance,” presented by the Indo-American Arts Council. Many of those watching seemed to be people who worked in the neighborhood, highlighting the contrast between the mandatory precision of business communication and the more visceral and ambiguous communication used by those performing for these lunch-hour spectators.

The program was carefully chosen to alternate between more traditional exponents of Indian classical dance with varied amalgams, updates, and syntheses. The music ranged from the flutes and drums that we associate with Indian dance to synthesized and ambient permutations of these sounds and rhythms.

The first piece on view was for four women of Toronto’s Sampradaya Dance Creations, performing “Kalinga Nartana,” which took us straight to the canonical heart of Indian classical dance: the Shiva attitude positions, the drubbing and scuffing feet. They began and concluded arrayed in a tableau, in which a sculptural base was supplied by one woman sinking into grand plié. The tableau dissolved; the dancers dispersed to the perimeters, thus setting the terms for a considerable amount of choral complexity achieved by counterpoint, call-and-response, and framing borders balancing a vitalized center. The dancers’ “Kalinga Nartana” depicted the Hindu deity Krishna vanquishing a hydra-headed serpent. Krishna as depicted by women is not odd in Indian dance, and the deity himself adds a somewhat polysexual dimension.

Next, four women of New York’s Thresh troupe performed excerpts from “Tides of the Moon,” which renewed the venerable correlation between lunar phases and women’s temperament. A program note described the intention to present both lyrical and more aggressive sides of female energy. Kinetically, this was effectively translated by passages of drifting and wafting as well as drubbing, skittering, and whiplash swirls.

Two women from the Nayikas Dance Theater Company joined two men from India’s Rudrakshya men’s group in “Pallavi.” The dancers frequently stood with one foot flexed, crossed either in front of or behind the standing leg, reminding us of the parallels to formalized balletic positions in other systems of dance. Mixing the sexes introduced a different dynamic than the first two pieces: a particular, potentially erotic chemistry that was not gender-specific as we customarily understand it in the West. The men’s faces also wore the fixed, haetera-like smile that is part of the conventional performance practice of Asian dance. The men circled around the women, and the sexes separated and combined, often performing the same shared steps, uncoiling in serpentine rhythms.

“Nomadic Still” was a presentation of Washington, D.C.’s Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company, choreographed by Darla Stanley. We saw man (Daniel Singh), woman (Ms. Stanley), and child (Mac Twining). The piece opened with Mr. Twining draped over a chair that pivoted precariously on one leg; he was positioned midway on a diagonal between Ms. Stanley and Mr. Singh. A program note explained that Ms. Stanley’s subject derived from the “constant moving in” her adult life; she was able to translate a personal confessional into expertly deployed visual and kinetic metaphor.

Complementing that was Montreal’s Sinha Dance, which was closer to the outlines of Western dance.

Roger Sinha and Magdelena Noweka’s medley of duets showed us the piercing extensions that we don’t get as much in Asian dance, in which the extremities stay closer to the body, as well as more supported lifts and holds. They presented a gamut of partnered adagio vocabulary derived from Asian, African, jazz, and nightclub styles. Their energy was fierce and their timing hair-trigger.

The six women of Sampradaya returned to close the performance with “HowZaat!,” which aimed to tell us something about the game of cricket. I’m not sure how much of the “subtext of colonialism, politics, and popular culture,” which the piece purported to examine, was palpably apparent in the bouncing, batting, and bowling dancers. Instead, it all seemed somewhat like sweet half-time entertainment, while we heard things like “that’s a great catch” on the sound track by Raghupathy Dixit. It was charming; I would have been happy to see it again, and to try to further explore its analytic edge.

The New York Sun

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