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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
Rubin Museum of Art

Devi Malika - An Evening of Indian Dance and Storytelling

by Robert Abrams
December 16, 2005
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011

Devi Malika - An Evening of Indian Dance and Storytelling

Robert Abrams
December 16, 2005

Rajika Puri began an evening of storytelling, dance and song with a single hand in the light, then her foot, and finally her whole body emerged. The opening of the show was like the opening of a sensual flower. Ms. Puri was accompanied by Steve Gorn who produced sweet sounds on his flute. He was also very expressive, reaching with his body.

Ms. Puri is masterly with rhythmic footwork. Her chanting has always been enchanting, but tonight she added singing to her repertoire. What I really like about her performance though is her precise gestures. Not only is she precise but she has fun doing it.

Ms. Puri told the stories of six women from the Indian pantheon. She was very expressive telling tales full of passion. The story of Savitri was particularly inventive. Ms. Puri played Savitri, a woman and ex-princess who married a woodcutter. When Death comes to take her husband away, she tricks him into restoring her father's kingdom and in giving her back her husband. Using a mask on the back of her head, Ms. Puri also played Death, and Satyavan, Savitri's huband. The back and forth between the characters was expertly done. Ms. Puri inhabits her characters.

In the talk after the show, Ms. Puri remarked that "we each contain a piece of each [of the aspects of feminine divinity] within us." Ms. Puri certainly does.

Rajika Puri as Sati
Photo courtesy of Frances Hui

Rajika Puri as Parvati
Photo courtesy of Peter Chen

For another view of the performance, click here.

The Rubin Museum of Art

D E V I - M A L I K A
manifestations of the feminine divine in India
accompanied by
directed by
lighting by
LALITA - 'beautiful'
Devi, 'goddess', as prime mover of the universe. She of a thousand names, a thousand attributes.
Lyrics: from Lalita Sahasranama, ancient Sanskrit text attributed to mythical sage, Agastya
Music: Christian Bollman and Michael Riemann. Singer: Aruna Sairam
PARVATI - 'of the mountain'
Female counterpart and shakti, 'power', of Shiva who entranced him the moment he set eyes on her . . . she brought us music and dance.
Music: Lingaraja (delete existing line)
SAVITRI - 'born of the sun'
Revered by Hindu women as an ideal woman, wife, daughter-in-law, she bested Yama - death himself - with her wit, persistence, and devotion to her husband, Satyavan.
Script: Rajika Puri & Yuval Sharon
SARASWATI - 'one that flows'
The hidden river, patron of music and of learning, she is also Vaach - 'speech': the first sound in the universe and, thus, companion of Brahma, the Creator.
Music: Raga Saraswati

RADHA - 'prosperity'
Beloved of the adolescent flute-player, Krishna, her love for him transforms her from mere mortal into a part of the dual deity RadheShyam.
Lyrics: from Jayadev's Gitagovinda (13th C.) Music: Odissi dance repertoire
SATI - 'true'
Like Savitri, she is an ideal life partner. She also embodies terrifying and vengeful forms of Devi as protective mother.
Script: based on an episode in the Shiva Purana.
A panorama of devis ('goddesses') and devas ('gods').
Hindu philosophy conceives of divinity as param-atma, an 'ultimate soul' which has no name or form. In practice, however, Hindus conceive of deity in thousands of ways, giving each of them many names, and many attributes captured in symbolic images like a conch shell, a circle of fire, a lotus seat.
Some forms of deity are specific. Their many names are identified by a devotee as referring only to one being. Shyam, ('evening'), Murlidhar, ('flute player'), and Gopal, ('cowherd') refer only to Krishna. Nataraj ('king of dance'), Yogeshwar ('master of yoga'), and Parvati-pati ('husband of Parvati) can only mean Shiva.
Similarly many forms of the feminine divine are, at one level, distinct. Parvati, Uma, Ambika are the same person. They are not Radha - beloved of Krishna; nor are they Saraswati - goddess of learning. At another level, however, they are all manifestations of the feminine principle - of Shakti ('power'). Like Lalita they can be cosmic in concept and embody the attributes of all goddesses.
In India, a woman is often addressed as "Devi! ". The divine principle is thus recognised as manifest in a range of beings, some of whom have temples dedicated to them and others who are simply idealised human beings. There is a residue of the divine feminine in all of us.
The Artists
RAJIKA PURI (Dancer, singer, actor)
is an exponent of two forms of Indian dance: Bharata Natyam and Odissi. Her knowledge of western music and dance, led to creative collaborations like: Flamenco Natyam, a mosaic of flamenco and Indian dance, Bharatanatyam Variations, a post-modern 'take' on tradition, and Another Country, dancing to American song with singer Nora York, the last of which led to Union/Severed: expressions of the divine, presented at Asia Society this May, (also accompanied by Steve Gorn and directed by Yuval Sharon). Cast by Julie Taymor as 'Narrator' in The Transposed Heads (Lincoln Center Theater), Rajika has been in productions at the Public, Guthrie, Classic Stage Co, Theatre for a New Audience, in films like Mira Nair's Mississippi Masala, and has developed roles as dancing story-teller for Lotus Fine Arts' New York Ramayana, (Kaye Playhouse), Trinayan's Neel: the eternal blue, (JoyceSoho) and on tour in India. Rajika lectures and writes on Indian and western performing arts, and is Contributing Editor at NewsIndia Times. Web-site: www.rajikapuri.com.
STEVE GORN (Musician)
whose flute is featured on the 2004 Academy Award winning Documentary film, Born into Brothels, has performed Indian Classical Music and new American Music on the bansuri bamboo flute, soprano saxophone and clarinet, in concerts and festivals throughout the world. Well known to audiences in India and the west, he has been praised by critics and leading Indian musicians as one of the few westerners recognized to have captured the subtlety and beauty of Indian music. As an innovator in the field of contemporary world music, he is featured on Paul Simon's Grammy nominee CD, You're The One, and has toured and recorded with Jack DeJohnette, Tony Levin, Glen Velez, Krishna Das, Alessandra Belloni, and Layne Redmond. His most recent recordings: Colors of the Mind, and Priyageeta and the jazz recording, Winter Birds, with the John Lindberg group featuring Susie Ibarra. See www.stevegorn.com.
began collaborating with Rajika last spring on UNION / SEVERED at the Asia Society and has enjoyed deepening both his understanding of Indian culture and his working vocabulary with Rajika on this production. Working in theater, opera, and video, Yuval has recently directed Wagner's Die Meistersinger at Berkeley Opera and the American premiere of Falk Richter's God is a DJ with his group Theater Faction, a production Theatermania called one of the ten best performances in New York in 2004. Upcoming projects include serving as the project director for New York City Opera's VOX: Showcasing American Composers in May and an unorthodox adaptation of Shakespeare's MACBETH in June, featuring a cameo by Rajika. More information at www.yuvalsharon.com.
BARRY STEELE (Lighting Designer)
has been lighting and supervising dance since 1989 working with Battery Dance Company, PearsonWidrig DanceTheatre, Lucinda Childs Dance Company, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, and The Ballet Stars of Moscow (primary dancers of the Kirov and Bolshoi), among others. Opera companies he has worked with include San Francisco Opera Center, Portland Opera, Nashville Opera, Sarasota Opera, Opera Delaware, and Glimmerglass Opera designing productions including Madama Butterfly, Der Fliegende Hollander, Il Barbiere di Seviglia, Werther, La Boheme, Carmen, and the world premiere of the American opera The Dreamers. Internationally produced operas include Salome and The Consul for Opera de Nantes and Opera d'Angers in France.
Anil Srinivasan - for being such a valuable Carnatic Music Advisor
Rachel Cooper - for the generous loan of her Topeng mask, and to
Sylvia Lim - for her help backstage.
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