Below is a review of the Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, performances at the Traditions Engaged Festival. Prominent dance critic, Allan Ulrich of the San Francisco Chronicle, shared his thoughts on the opening day of the three day festival of Indian classical dance.
Even if your attendance was limited, you couldn’t help feeling that history was made over the weekend during “Traditions Engaged,” the three-day international festival of classical Indian dance and music that filled both the Forum and the Novellus Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
The round-the-clock panoply of performances, lecture-demonstrations and panels, all produced by famed dancer-teacher Pandit Chitresh Das, was as fascinating as it was humbling. More than 60 artists from near and far, contributed invaluable information about the incredibly rich and varied dance culture of India. Of course, it added up to a lifetime worth of study, but just sampling Friday’s fare added up to the kind of education you won’t find in books.
In the afternoon in the Forum, esteemed master Sadanam Harikumaran offered an illustrated lecture on the gestural language of Kathakali, the complex dance drama that originated in Kerala state in the 17th century. Harikumaran is a spellbinder. His fingers summon images of butterflies, crocodiles, fish and elephants, and he ties them together in a narrative infused with uncommon beauty and surprising universality.
YBCA was the place to come to sample the varied styles of Indian classical dance, most of it accompanied by a superb battery of musicians. At the Forum, the locally based Odissi performer Vishnu Tattva Das joined Niharika Mohanty for an elegant suite, marred only by a malfunctioning recording system. The pair’s invocation was a medley of smooth interdependence of body parts, gentle dips rooted in flexed feet and smooth unisons. Kathak, the narrative North Indian form, which Das has popularized in the Bay Area, yielded another brilliant exponent, Mumbai-based Shila Mehta. Watching her coordinate rhythms with the musicians seemed like a lab lesson in improvisation.
The evening program provided a veritable banquet of stylistic approaches. The young women of Das’ own company opened with an invocation that stressed sleek turns and unisons of ever-increasing velocity. Los Angeles’ Mythili Prakash was all eloquent eyes, delicate gestures, glorious symmetries and unearthly stillness in a demonstration of Bharatanatyam. We were treated also to a sampling of Gauriya Nritya, the rarely seen semi-classical Bengali form. The unforgettable performer, Mahua Mukherjee, balanced on a bowl, deployed her upper body dramatically and constantly propelled herself around the space. Then, Radikant Mohapatra’s invocation to Shiva emerged a mesmerizing mosaic of details, introduced, modified and reiterated, suggestive of American postmodernism. But I think we know who got there first.
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