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June 28, 2012 5:31 pm
Not one of the four solos that make up the hour-long Namasya (Homage) fits the traditional mould of classical Indian dance. Absent are the characters, the storylines and the fine musical play that usually sustain a solo outing. But Shantala Shivalingappa – born in Chennai, raised in Paris, trained in the Kuchipudi idiom of south-east India, and inducted into contemporary dance by none other than Pina Bausch – carried the evening nonetheless. The power of Shivalingappa’s dancing, its bright impulse and grace, sufficed.
The lithe dancer, who is in her 30s, changed speed and dynamic without warning, springing into the air, plunging to the floor and lilting sideways. Her piercing gaze turned empty space into dramatic landscape. Individually articulated fingers described a lotus flower, a primping peacock, a box that closes with a latch. The intricacies of design did not prevent her from dancing with great economy and ease, however. Luminosity and clarity defined her, as if she were made of light and glass.
No wonder Bausch and Ushio Amagatsu, longtime director of the popular all-male butoh troupe Sankai Juku, volunteered their services. (Shivalingappa and her mother, Savitry Nair, a veteran Bharatanatyam practitioner, made the other two pieces.) And what did Shivalingappa bring to the work of these illustrious choreographers, and they to her?
She purified Amagatsu of camp (though there is no cure for the Asian fusion elevator music) and, amazingly, there was still something left. Haiku-like dramas of the natural world emerged from the steps. The image of a flower blooming out of water may not be particularly original, but in her hands it was lovely. As for the Bausch, it proved gratifying – sensual and musical – without revealing anything new about Shivalingappa. Any number of Bausch’s lovely ladies in oversized evening dresses might have embodied the choreographer’s vision late in her career of woman luxuriating in feeling.
By the time Shivalingappa’s own somewhat disjointed piece and Nair’s effectively stark contribution arrived, I had grown tired of gesture divorced from story. Without the poetic layering that narrative supplies, evocative moves from the Indian classical lexicon can seem merely cryptic. But you could still tell the dancer from the dance – and she, Shivalingappa, sustained interest and inspired awe.
Until Sunday, www.joyce.org
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