Friday, March 14, 2014

Kalanidhi International Dance Festival 2014- Reflections on Opening Night

Yesterday I attended the opening night of the Kalanidhi International Dance Festival on New Directions in Indian Dance.  I'm always interested in the dialogues between "tradition" and "contemporary" in any genre of dance, and thought I'd share a few reflections on the pieces I watched yesterday. I had reached the Harbourfront Centre a little early after teaching a class downtown, and so I took the opportunity to pick up our pre-ordered tickets (Amber and I were attending together, and had purchased our tickets online) at the box office. Since the evening's performance was scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm and it was only 6:30 pm, I decided to go to the Pearl and have a glass of Merlot. I was able to get a seat near the window, and the view of the lake covered in ice was spectacular.

The festival's opening evening began with a performance of a traditional Bharatanatyam varnam by Nivedha Ramalingham, who put on a lovely performance despite a few glitches in the music recording. I enjoyed her expressivity and her good form, and remain deeply appreciative of her transition back into the choreography after the technical glitches with the music recording.  

This was followed by the second performance - SAVITRI-dancing in the forest of death by Preeti Vasudevan's Thresh from New York City. SAVITRI began with a very striking visual of Vasudevan's legs in the air. The lighting highlighted this beautifully by leaving the rest of her body (which was on the floor) in darkness. My attention was caught by the articulations of her feet in the air, and I got goosebumps when she used vocalizations as she lowered her feet to the ground. There is something powerful about the use of human voice without words, and Vasudevan captured that powerful, indescribable feeling perfectly.  The set consisted of ropes suspended from the ceiling at upstage right- was this reflective of the forest? From my seat in the balcony, they almost looked like suspended human bones, adding to the somewhat eerie quality of parts of the piece.  At times, Vasudevan went behind these ropes, sometimes she emerged from between them.  I was definitely drawn into the piece. At moments, it appeared as though the sections were a little disjoint, especially when the sections involving voice were interspersed with sections which seemed to evoke movements from the Bharatanatyam lexicon −  but this made sense upon reading the programme later- the sections presented yesterday were excerpts from a longer work.

SAVITRI and its performer-mise-en-scene conversation was perhaps a perfect transition into the third part of the evening − three short dance pieces presented by Hari Krishnan's InDance.  The first, titled Box, featured two dancers dancing phrases of movements from the  Bharatanatyam vocabulary  in two separate squares of light. As I read the programme notes now, it appears that the choreographic vision was inspired by the concept of binaries, such as "White/Other", "Marginal/Mainstream," and how they are boxed into clean  categorizes . While watching it, I actually didn't find myself thinking of binaries; I was instead drawn in by the visual of the boxed pools of light on the floor, and how the dancers danced within the walls of these. I also enjoyed the unison of the dancers,  and the textures of percussion created by the different instruments played by Morgan Doctor. The most exciting moment for me was the ending, which featured the two dancers leaping into each other's boxes.

The next was a solo piece, an excerpt from Mea Culpa, which, as the programme notes state, was inspired by a vintage magazine cover featuring Ted Shawn's 1926 dance The Cosmic Dance of Siva. Featuring Matt Owen as the delightful interpreter, it was easily the most entertaining piece of the evening. The piece began with Owen stripping slowly and sensually into fishnets, and then proceeding to perform exaggerated movements reminiscent of the early 20th century "oriental dances".  Owen danced in front of a large projected image reminiscent of the Nataraja (not quite Nataraja, but an Orientalist approximation of it!) Hari Krishnan's programme notes, crediting Rossini and Gowri Shankar for the music and offering apologies to both, were also deliciously amusing. I relished this piece, in both its  humorous dialogue with the historical Ted Shawn work and its own package of fun.

The final piece of the evening was Uma, danced by Mesma Belsare. I particularly enjoyed watching her enter in character onto the stage, with her diva-like pause in the centre while waiting for the curtain to go up, and her varied gaits throughout the piece.  

This is the second Kalanidhi Festival that I've actually been able to watch since moving to Toronto in 2006. I've always been either away from Toronto or occupied during the festival days during the other years. I did, however, get a chance to attend the festival and symposium in 2009, where I saw the choreographic works which eventually inspired the writing of the article which  turned into my chapter contribution in the book Geographies of Dance, ed: Adam Pine, Olaf Kuhlke, Lexington Publishers (2013) (

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