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Narthaki 2007 (with Courtyard Dancers)

A delicious offering   
- Nandini Sikand, NYC   
Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou  
November 25, 2007 

Kali, the goddess of dissolution stands upon the inert body of Shiva behind a curtain of colourful saris. Dancers eat off silver thalis and feed one another, a bejeweled bride whirls to the strains of Quawaali music, and dancers smear the colours of holi on each other’s bodies and faces. These were some of the visual treats in ‘Replaced Rituals,’ an evening-length performance at the Painted Bride in downtown Philadelphia on November 16-17, 2007.   

Using Baul and Quawaali music (that draw on the syncretic aspects of Hinduism and Islam in South Asia), Replaced Rituals built on the dance vocabulary of Kathak and Bharatanatyam, two classical dance forms to tell a migrant’s tale. Despite all these disparate strands, they coalesced into a rich pastiche of movement and sound.

Choreographer and dancer Pallabi Chakravorty has a strong sense of the visual and the dramatic. Kali and Shiva dance a cosmic dance to Baul music and then encircle each other in complete silence except for the sound of the ghungroos on their ankles. Similarly, dancers sit on the floor and eat off silver thalis, feeding one another, however this familial moment is rudely shattered by a thali flung to the floor. A rude reminder that sometimes the simple ritual of sharing food is not without its moment of rupture. Later, a nubile bride is seated next to her partner, each in their own spotlight, reminiscent of the performative of South Asia. But the spotlight on her fades and when it reappears, a young man has taken her place. The ‘new’ couple, dancers Daniel Phoenix Singh and Rob Chappetta, perform an especially tender pas de deux using mudras and movements from Bharatanatyam and modern dance. It is these moments that effectively underscore the fluidity of identity and relationships, as they shift across borders and cultures. It is these gems that give this ‘migrant’s tale’ a universal appeal. Replaced Rituals often builds on the notion that the power of ritual lies not in mindless repetition but in a practice that is imbued with individual emotion and meaning. 

The musicians, tabla player Dan Scholnick, sitarist Craig Ebner and drummer Timothy Bauer were not simply accompanying artists but were an integral part of the larger ensemble.  Ebner’s moody accompaniment on the sitar emphasized some of the poignant moments described above and the percussion of Scholnick and Bauer created a rich dialogue with the rhythmic footwork of the dancers. 

At the end of the hour-long piece, the dancers whirled into the finale, dreaming perhaps of a time and place far away, leaving the audience with the feeling that the idea of ‘home’ is perhaps one that we carry with us. 
The opening night was followed by a lively dialogue with all the performers and a very engaged Philadelphia audience.  

Nandini Sikand is a filmmaker, Odissi dancer and anthropologist based in New York City.