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Dance View Times 2007

Performance Plus
September 23, 2007
Dakshina / Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company
Woodrow Wilson Plaza , Federal Triangle
Washington, DC
September 20, 2007

by George Jackson (www.danceviewtimes.com)
copyright 2007 by George Jackson

A title by Edwin Denby — “Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets” — calls up the components of the outdoor event I attended on a comfortable day in early autumn. Daniel Singh’s group was performing. The dancers were an American urban assortment of Asian, African and European heritage. Their training showed classical influences (from India’s traditions and ballet) but also contemporary practices (modern dance and post-modern). The surrounding buildings, Washington’s governmental granite and concrete commercial structures, weren’t tall but looked ever so solid. Within that architectural mass, both the dancers and their audience seemed fragile and mortal. Some of the people in the plaza had come not only to look but also to lunch (tables and chairs were provided), some simply looked for a while and still others glanced at the performers in passing. Office workers probably predominated but there were also shoppers, tourists and a scattering of street people.
Singh’s programming was wise. All the dances were brief, but the variety was wide. Dakshina’s distinctive character is its India connection, and heirloom examples of Bharata Natyam or evolved ones dominated. There was, too, a stark Anna Sokolow modern solo on a Hebraic mourning theme and a neo-romantic contemporary duo to grand opera music. That the duo was for women and that one of the new Indian dances bonded two men was taken very much in stride by the audience. What set off a couple of the street people were the compelling Indian rhythms. They started doing hip-hop versions of the ragas, unobtrusively at first. The movement of these reactive audience members was anatomically loose compared to the controlled torsos and limbs on stage. Spatially, though, the street people moved in restricted ways. One man danced rooted to the spot at the side of the stage where at first he had stood and watched. The other man moved in a straight and narrow path in front of the stage, progressing from left to right and then returning to dead center. At that point, a police woman approached him and gently led him to the periphery. None of this fazed the dancers on stage. In fact, they seemed flattered that their performance had stimulated participation. Viewers had an option to learn from the unexpected dancing.

My favorites in the audience, though, were a woman jogger and a camera man. The woman was passing through the plaza from Pennsylvania Avenue to the Mall and as she came into the stage’s range her running pace shifted, not consciously it seemed, to that of the raga being played. The camera man stood dancer-straight near his tripod, occasionally bending over it. He was, in fact, a dancer — Ludovic Jolivet (who also mimes, choreographs and diligently video-documents the DC dance scene).

What was the upshot of this free outdoor event? Not so much that Singh was able to peddle his group’s regular performances and perhaps win a few customers or even convert ordinary citizens into becoming dance fans but that this, of and by itself, was a humane and civilized way to spend lunchtime.

For the record, the dancers were Swati Kappagantula, Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Rob Chappetta and Singh himself for the India-based works; Melissa Greco in the Sokolow solo; and Nicole McClam and Stephanie Todd Wong in the women’s duo “Lullaby”. The choreographers were Srimathi and Sri Dhanajayan, and Chitra Viswesharan for the dances from India in traditional style; Singh made the men’s and women’s duos; Lorry May had staged the Sokolow.

Photo:  Daniel Phoenix Singh,by Stephen Baranovics.

Posted at 09:09 AM in George Jackson