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Nayikas Dance Theatre Company - Samita the Infinite Within - Supplemental review

by Robert Abrams
February 9, 2004
The Baruch Performing Arts Center
25th Street and Lexington Avenue
(entrance on 25th street)
New York, NY 10010
646-312-4085

Nayikas - Samita the Infinite Within - Supplemental review

www.nayikas.org

presented by

The Indo American Arts Council
Aroon Shivdasani, Executive Director
www.iaac.us

In association with

The Baruch Performing Arts Center
25th Street and Lexington Avenue (entrance on 25th street)
New York, NY
www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac
646-312-4085

Choreographer: Myna Mukherjee
Dancers: Myna Mukherjee, Sunonda Samaddar, Aditi Dhruv, Anurima Banerji, Zidana Bell, Maria Chaudhuri, Crystal Davis, Neha Anada

Robert Abrams
February 9, 2004

I liked Nayikas' performance so much when I saw them the first time that I felt compelled to return for their last performance of this season. These supplemental comments just focus on aspects I didn't see the first time.

In MangalaCharan - Tandava, the choreography made excellent use of variations in dispersal patterns of the four dancers. They often flowed back and forth from an even field pattern to an offset pattern where three dancers would be positioned in a tight group while the fourth dancer moved in concert, but on the opposite side of the stage. The work ended with the dancers positioned in a regular square, possibly symbolic of the four cardinal directions.

While I certainly expected to enjoy the more traditional works as an audience member again, my overriding reason for returning as a critic was to reexamine Faces of a Name. As I mentioned in my previous review, there appeared to be a disconnect between what I thought I had seen and the program notes. I wanted to confirm whether the work was flawed or whether my own recollections had been incorrect. Now having seen the work twice, I can report with confidence that this is a well choreographed work. There is a disconnect between the work and the program notes, but my initial hypotheses that this disconnect could be explained because the work was flawed, or that I misobserved it the first time, have been proven to be false. The disconnect can be better explained by saying that the work only presents the first half of the Chitrangada story. You can tell this work concerns a single phase of the story due to the use of duality images throughout the work.

As you may recall, Chitrangada was a beautiful princess who was raised as a prince. In other words, if your country was being invaded and you needed a warrior to defend you, or if you were the head of the Indian Olympic committee and you needed someone to bring home the gold in the bialthalon (or other shooting contests), Chitrangada would be your go-to woman. She meets Arjuna and falls in love with him, but he is put off by her strength. Through divine intervention, Chitrangada becomes wholly feminine, which, predictably, makes her miserable. Eventually Arjuna stops being such a dunce and accepts Chitrangada for who she is in her entirety.

Faces of a Name is not flawed because even though it only tells half the story (it ends where Chitrangada has split herself in two to be wholly feminine), it does end at a philosophical resting place with a visually interesting portrayal of Chitrangada's conflicted state. However, the full story as told in the program notes is one of those empowering stories that deserves to be told. It is especially appropriate for this entire story to be told by Nayikas since they are an all-female dance company and the story is empowering even in its original form. Ms. Mukherjee should choreograph an act two to go along with Faces of a Name which together would comprise a longer work.

I have no doubt her dancers would be up to the challenge. While they were all good the first time I saw them, tonight they looked very much in command, both in the fluid and the still sections.

The remaining works, Pallavi - Kedar Kaumadee, Das Mahavidya, and Mokshya & Shloka were all as enjoyable as last time. One element I noticed was the way the dancers would sometimes scoot across the floor "en heel". I am sure there is some other, more proper term for the movement, but for now this will have to do. It brought to mind Carlos Porto's signature heel swivels, which just goes to show that even in a culturally specific dance form such as traditional Odissi, you can still find cross-cultural connections, in this case linking India and Brazil. This was, though, possibly the most extensive use of heel-only motion I have seen. Done by you or I it would probably look ungainly, just the way that dancing en pointe would look ungainly (or in my case, impossible), but the Nayikas dancers managed to make their heel work look unremarkable (that is, unremarkable in the sense that it was just as extremely beautiful as every other sort of movement they performed).


Nayikas
Photo courtesy of Joseph Khaksouri

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