(Photo by Nan Melville.)
Last night's performance by the Nrityagram Indian Dance Ensemble
began with darkness and a silence that was pierced by the soothing voice of an incorporeal narrator who introduced us to the first piece, "Praarambha" or "hymn of creation". The curtain lifted to expose four dancers in colorful costume lying in wait for their musical cue. Once it struck, the dancers began their routine amidst dim lights and a light veil of fog. It was truly striking.
My experience with dance is quite limited but a few things struck me. During the show there were times when the music wound down to an ethereal sitar drone and the dancers would come to a stop and assume poses that I would associate with Hindu statuary until a drum signaled it was time for hips to sway and feet to move again. I was also struck by how much facial expressions were part of the dances. I'm used to plastered-on smiles alternating with looks of intense concentration and, while there was plenty of that to be found here, there were also looks of awe, surprise, et al
which reminded me of silent film acting. I believe it was Bijayini Satpathy who had the incredibly expressive eyes. She had the ability to open them almost preternaturally wide and there was just something about the white contrasting against the dark eyeliner and her brown skin which made her smiles even warmer. No doubt a lot of this was lost on people in the back rows.
Lastly there were the hands. These ladies had the most sensual hands. They would alternately flutter above the dancers' head and then join together and undulate until I was mesmerized. And I never knew a solitary extended pinky finger could be so potent. The dance pieces often involved a solitary dancer coming to the front of the stage while the rest would remain in the back. After the one nearest to the audience had finished her part, she would roll her hands about and then move them away from her body until they pointed towards the women at the rear who would pick it up from there. As her hands unfolded, so too would her eyes roll in the same direction.
I don't doubt for a second that my ignorance of dance as well as of the culture from which these women come caused me to miss a lot. But the performance sure had this lumbering oaf in its throes. Kudos also to lighting designer Lynne Fernandez who managed to create such great moods using batteries of lights at the sides of the stage with their orange beams that fanned out in the fog.
It's a shame that so few people turned out for such a wonderful performance. Was everyone danced out after the International Festival?