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Washington Asia Press 2005

2005- Washington ASIA PRESS Arts&Living
By Shannon Conrad and Lisa Lister


The National Geographic auditorium was packed on Friday April 1 due to the increasing popularity of Indian traditional and contemporary music and dance. The event entitled Dancing Across India, was a whirlwind of colored saris, kohl eyes, rhythmic drum beats and a deeply enraptured audience. The performance featured both traditional Bharata Natyam and Kathak dance, aswell as a modern piece inspired by the passions, romance and glamour of Bollywood. On Monday, April 11, an invocation of the elephant- headed god Ganesh, remover of obstacles; classical Indian dance costumes in resplendent royal blue, red and gold; and haunting chants and flute-like sounds of dance music were some highlights of the National Theatre’s final event in this season’s Monday Night at the National series. Both events were danced by Vrindarani Buchwald, Sindhu Raghavendra and Daniel Phoenix Singh of Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company. These performances featured Bharata Natyam, classical dance that traces back nearly 2000 years. Originally nurtured in the temples and courts of Southern India. Known for its exaggerated facial gestures, eye movements and intricate mudras (hand gestures). It has three distinct elements: Nritta, purely aesthetic movements; Nritya, movements that emphasis expression; and Natya, storytelling dance.

The dance often invokes both narrative and thematic interpretation that express the longing of man for a supreme
being. This performance was no exception. The dancers’ precise moves and positions, expressive facial gestures and rich physical translation of the music made it seem as if viewers had been transported to an ancient and more spiritual world. As the plain backdrop of the stage seemed to fade away to be replaced by a
long-forgotten temple or Emperor’s palace, the formal dance elements of this emotion- driven, spirited performance clearly conveyed the spirit of the dances, regardless of the audiences familiarity with the mythologies and traditions referenced. The opening dance at National Geographic, Nandi Chol, explored the stories of the conquests of the Hindu god Nataraj. Using the precise movements and forms for which Bharata Natyam is known, the dancers conjured Nataraja in his various iconic forms.

The second dance performed, Nee Urraipai, depicted a scene from the Indian epic Ramayana in which the Lord Rama’s consort was abducted and eventually escaped from the evil King Ravana. The stunning performance ended with an excerpt from a Pada Varnam, the ultimate dance in the Bharata Natyam repertoire. Varnam translates as “colors,” and the dance allows dancers to express the colors of the different moods and emotions of the lords
depicted. This Varnam depicted the life of Shanmuga, the six headed sons of Shiva and implored him to have mercy and grant the dancers his vision. The stories rendered in these dances came clearly to life for the audience, due in part to the dancers providing a narrative summary and translation of the essential dance symbols prior to each performance. Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company performs and presents Indian forms, such as Bharata Natyam, and Modern dance, mirroring the multiple identities of second generation South Asians.

The company, whose name means both “offering” and “from the South of India,” combines the arts with social justice both by integrating these themes into their work and through community and educational partnerships. Their mission includes using dance as a vehicle for social change and as a communication vehicle that transcends time and culture. Following the dance performance at the National Theater, a Bhangra dance party was held featuring contemporary Punjabi and Bhangra music. Young and old alike shimmied to the strains of Panjabi MC’s club favorite Mundian To Bach Ke, also known as “Beware of the Boys” among other Bollywood and Punjabi favorites. The company was recently awarded a prestigious NEA Challenge American Fast-Track Review Grant to create a festival of Indian dance that will feature dancers from India. The festival is scheduled for October 28-29. Daniel Singh will next perform on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. on June 11. To find upcoming performances of Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company visit www.dakshina.org

By Thuy-Anh Vu and Steve Douglas-Craig