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2010 Fall Festival Preview by George Jackson


Mallika Sarabhai & Darpana Dance Company

The Lincoln Theater
, Washington, DC
October 8, 2010
by George Jackson
copyright 2010 by George Jackson
October 10, 2010 | danceviewtimes.com

Music was the partner, the dominant one probably, for Mallika Sarabhai and her Darpana Dance Company from India. Hovering above the stage like spirits, the lead singer and a line of musicians appeared in a strip of film that accompanied and linked the several live scenes of “Sampradayam”, a suite of songs (the Bhajan sort) and dances (in Bharata Natyam style) invoking love (devotional and sensual). Some of the song texts translated (with the help of subtitles) into exquisite erotic poetry whereas others seemed repetitious chants to induce a state of not trance but receptivity. No question that this performance provided pleasure, but also for Western members of the audience some perplexity because a rose is not a rose in Bharata Natyam.

Not all Bharata Natyam looks alike. I’d guess that Sarabhai’s sort is a mosaic of the generic and the individual. Rhythm is stated by feet stamping the floor with a sharp edge much of the time, yet there are moments of more pliant, buoyant foot drumming. Traditionally clear throughout is the alternation of motion and supple pose. In her own dancing, Sarabhai’s arms float eloquently and there is, of course, the expressiveness of fingers and face. Her love duet with the tall leading man, Manoj Bagga, was an intricate assemblage of intimacy and restraint.

As choreographer, Sarabai shapes and segments groups simply, effectively in space. Processionals she arranges with diverse notches in the chain. One of her climax formations looked like a cancan line, with the kick arising from a classic India front attitude. Even this invention, though, and such distinctive steps as rhythmic glissades and dervish turns or hopped plies did not distract viewers from the primary focus – the disposition of volume in individual bodies. All this is suffused by music made with cymbals, a couple of drums, a few strings and voices. The lead singer, Jayan Nair, makes plaints of love songs and modulates seamlessly from full voice to echo.

Darpana was presented by Daniel Phoenix Singh’s Washington-based Dakshina Dance Company, which opened the program with three short selections – an excerpt from Singh’s decorative, Indiadance-based group work “Vasanth (Spring)”; his moderndance “Lullaby” for a sisterly duo (Melissa Greco Liu, Natalia Pinzon); and his India/modern “Bell Song”. The Fall Festivals which Singh has organized bring amazing dance and other arts from India to Washington. This time, I had to miss Anita Retnam and her neo-Natyam dances at the Lincoln on October 9.