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Philadelphia Inquirer 2007-2008

Out of India, dislocation and ‘Replaced Rituals’
By Lisa Kraus
For The Inquirer

Using Indian Kathak and Bharatanatyam dance – forms usually reserved for traditional tales – Courtyard Dancers in “Replaced Rituals” relate the up-to-the-minute story of immigrants’ displacement and cultural adjustment.

Performances at the Painted Bride over the weekend melded dance, live instrumental music and recorded songs.
There was much to savor in the dynamic rhythms and gestures, the costumes and light in shades of mango and persimmon, and ecstatic devotional Qawaali and Baul singing.

But much of “Replaced Rituals” also was perplexing or unfulfilled.

The cast of eight dancers and three musicians shifted between classical Indian and Western forms, sometimes mixing the two. Beginning with choreographer Pallabi Chakravorty morphing into a convincing tantric goddess with multiple writhing arms and a twisted grimace, the piece moved through scenes referring to everyday events, milestones and cultural dynamics: eating, or marriage, or the rejection of the older generation by the young.
Indian dance has much to teach the West about expressive use of the hands. The most stunning movement moments involved complex or rapid-fire hand gestures (mudras).

One men’s duet by collaborating choreographer Daniel Singh stood out for its lyrically performed mix of loping postmodern movement with elegant and novel four-handed mudras. Perhaps this duet’s inclusion in “Replaced Rituals” signified that in this brave new world, men can love men openly.

Straight Kathak sections were exhilarating, with the dancers’ erratically shifting stamped rhythms amplified by bells worn at the ankles, and a panoply of nuanced arm, hand and head gestures. One unison women’s trio was danced in counterpoint to a young, defiant soloist – an engaging contrast.

But I wished that the dancers had looked more settled and sure of their steps. And the storytelling was full of arbitrary timings and sudden unexplained action. Sections ended before they were developed.

Some directorial decisions may have made sense intellectually but didn’t work theatrically. Perhaps the dancers’ training, which prizes the embodiment of swiftly shifting states of mind, creates a tendency toward abruptness.
For this (non-Indian) viewer, this convention, coupled with stinting on palpable dramatic arcs, caused viewer whiplash.

A post-show discussion clarified that the work’s intent was to examine the “negotiations” one must make not only as an immigrant but also as a dancer of traditional forms performing in an only recently theatricalized context.
The ensemble’s use of traditional forms to tell contemporary stories is vital and important. I hope Courtyard Dancers’ craft will soon match the strength of their ideas.