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George Jackson Festival 2011 Review

Time Lines

Dakshina Dance, Kalakshetra Dance & Leela Samson
Fall Festival of Indian Dance
Lincoln Theatre
Washington, DC
October 7, 2011

by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson

Transitions and transformations happen even in the most traditional of arts. Leela Samson, the superb Bharatanatyam dancer, has become an administrator and educator. The evening of October 5, in India’s embassy, she stood at a podium as only a dancer can – her sari-clad frame pliantly upright, her head held high and her hands resting patiently at her sides when not animated to illustrate a point. Samson was lecturing on arts policy and management issues. Two nights later, she was on stage at the Lincoln Theatre in a pair of solos. Her dancing has been an alloy of flesh, velvet and willpower since I’ve known it and this time she had to will her body to obey more emphatically than before. Obey it did and her marvelous balances lasted untremored. With one leg raised at an angle in front and the clearly articulated arms floating, Samson’s right index finger was poised in expectation as the light on her faded – undoubtedly it was eternity for which she was waiting.

Another icon of continuity at the Lincoln was Kalakshetra, said to be India’s oldest dance company. Samson, though, had brought it along for its first American visit to show the current vitality of India’s classical dance. Youth dominates Kalakshetra. Its cadre is fresh and raring to go.

How suitable Indiadance is for corps work and group choreography has been debated. Soloists are its mainstay on the world’s stages. Kalakshetra’s solution to the issue is akin to chamber music. Particularly effective on Friday’s program were the three danced trios. They all employed one woman and two men, and established distinct differences between the latter.

Fascinating in the second trio, “Vrnam”, was the bravura use of the feet in high demipointe for both the delivery of rhythmic patter and the taking of postures. The postures were passed through rapidly, which reminded me of the traveling arabesques and transient attitudes favored by Balanchine. This trio is a quite extended work with thoroughly varied patterns of foot patter and well developed sets of joint articulations. Its choreographer was the late Rukmini Devi, founder in the 1940s of the Kalakshetra company and its home college in Chennai where Samson once studied and is now in charge.

Choreographer of the first trio was Sri Sheejith Krishna and the third was by Samson, who also made a men’s quintet and an octet with couples for the Kalakshetra dancers. The quintet had hints of fight formations and the octet snatches of folk dance partnering whereas the steps and stances of the trios were more purely classical. Still, the trios weren’t just exercises in design. In each the choreographer had juggled pattern and expression.

The program had begun with the DC-based Dakshina company in Daniel Phoenix Singh’s familiar “Vasanth”. It is a work of East-West fusion which the company has performed better on previous occasions.

Just a few days ago it was announced that the Lincoln, a charming 1920s theater on U Street NW next door to President Obama’s favorite chili joint, would have to close for lack of funds. Apparently that fate has been averted! The Lincoln is very suited to seeing dance and convenient to reach, being just across the street from a metro station. May it thrive!