Rajika Puri helped me develop into a devotee of Odissi, a form of classical Indian dance. Most of what I have seen of her work, while often innovative, has been in this classical tradition. This time she went further. She showed that classical Indian dance can be combined with modern dance to create a coherent performance.
The show consisted of nine sections. The opening, as in traditional forms of Indian dance, included the dancers paying respects to the musicians. Slow movements combined with very still hands cocked up and down were used to define the body and the space. The dancer was able to fill the space with just the shift of her eyes and slight head movements. Of course the choreography used more than just subtle movements to fill the space. For instance, three dancers were positioned so that one was in front and two together in the back. This was an effective way to fill the space and transition to the next number.
This section, Anga ('limbs'), employed reductionist poses and chants. It was more angular than the usual classical Indian dance poses, but it still worked. I am often not so partial to "post-modern" dance, but this was post-modern dance without complete randomness, with an underlying discipline, and with emotional expression.
The third number, Adavu ('dance step'), employed costumes that were attractively draped, but were stripped of adornment. This is another way that classical Indian dance was made "modern", but remained respectful to both forms. The number had a good balance of flow and pose, made use of the same diagonal front-back use of space as earlier numbers and featured emotional expression. The faces were neutral, but a neutral that read as enjoyment. The gestures felt like repeated reverence.
A video of a dance class was projected. The dancers were working on gestures. The video had a sense of intimacy created through artistic framing. I felt like an insider.
The next number, Hasta ('hands'), was notable for its strong lighting from the side, as well as smoke that drew patterns through the light. The lighting highlighted the dancers' hands, building on the gesture theme established earlier. There was also singing. The overall effect was very cool, although I would have liked simultaneous translation of the singing.
The next video focused on details of the fabric of dancers' costumes.
The next number, Svara ('musical note'), featured seven women with an ease about them. An L shaped line of dancers framed a soloist. This was similar to the opening, but more energetic and forceful. The dancers moved with precise directions. The choreography played with juxtapositions of two lines that interwove and rotated in a circle. This was appealing abstraction appealingly danced.
In the next number, Varna ('color'), one dancer used a plate to reflect a light onto an other dancer. This was a simple, but very cool effect. Dancers moved forward and back in a slot defined by the light. Gestures were isolated in the light. Part of the reason the number worked was simply that the dancers were so good. It really seemed like the kind of conversation that the show was advertised as.
A video of feet was projected.
I thought the next number, Pada ('feet of verse'), was appealing to watch even if I was not sure what the gestures meant. Once again, the dancers were expressive with small movements. Their great smiles and melodic voices added to the positive feel.
The last number, Samgiti ('coming together'), as well as the epilogue, employed the diagonals used before, plus one dancer off in the front on the opposite diagonal from the beginning. I thought it was subtle, but cool.
Throughout the performance, the dancers had great attack and were compelling at any speed.
The work ended with the dancers once again paying respect to the musicians, who deserved this respect.
I might add some more of the faster, higher energy sections, but then they would have to cut something else, and I am not sure what could be cut. The show was full of varied, inventive, high quality dance that successfully merged forms. Conversations with Shiva: Bharatanatyam Unwrapped was worth seeing twice.
Dancers: Aditi Dhruv, Alicia Pascal, Rajika Puri, Nirali Shastri, Sonali Skandan, Malini Srinivasan, Pavithra Vasudevan and Shobana Ram as Sutradhar (dancing narrator).
Music: Shobana Raghavan (vocals), A.R. Balaskandan (Percussion, Violin), Anil Srinivasan (Music Advisor)
Sound Design: Frank Wolf
Lighting Design: Julie Ana Dobo
Director: Yuval Sharon
Conceived and choreographed by Rajika Puri