"Site of Departure Source of Arrival" Festival of Dance and Art: Differing media, similar conversations
- Rajika Puri, NYC
e-mail: rajikapuri@yahoo.com 
Photos: Gunesh Desai (Courtesy: MasalaJunction.com & IAAC)

March 25, 2010

When in the summer of 2008, the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) inaugurated its first annual dance festival and called it ERASING BORDERS, there already existed an annual IAAC Visual Arts Show by the same name which focused on work produced in the Indian Diaspora. Though the dance festival includes artists from India as well, the nominal pairing has of late led to a series of combined Art Exhibition-Dance Performances coordinated by Amina Ahmed, IAAC Exhibitions Director in collaboration with Dance Director Prachi Dalal. 

The latest, “Site of Departure Source of Arrival,” co-presented with the Middlesex County College, New Jersey, on March 11, 2010, featured 7 visual artists and 3 dance companies plus a solo dancer. Watching the dance performances having just viewed the artwork, one could not help think of the performative intent of a lot of art being produced today. At the same time, we were reminded of how strong the visual component of dance is.

Artists of IAAC exhibit 
We were welcomed into the art show on one side by Asha Ganpat’s large painting of the Hindu goddess Kali, (garland of skulls, Shiva trampled underfoot and all) which featured a cutout where her face should have been. Spectators were invited to place their faces in that space - which they did, often sticking out their tongues in the manner of the bloodthirsty deity. Sonia Chaudhary’s book of images resting like a Koran on a carved book-holder and interspersed with threads, cried out to be leafed-through, inspite of a “please do not touch” sign next to it.

Moving on to the theatre, even before Ramya Ramnarayan entered to present her suite of three Bharatanatyam dances, the curtain opened to reveal a scrim lit in rose pink. Against that background, which also set off her costume, the fluid lines and sculptural modality of this south Indian temple-dance form were especially accentuated. Her Shiva Kavitvam breathed life into remembered bronze images of Shiva dancing, even as the pleated fan of her tailored sari swirled in complement to ‘his’ movements. Similarly, during her Javali in which a prepubescent nayika chastises Padmanabhaswamy for making amorous advances to one so young, the dancer’s stances alone captured much of the protagonist’s youth and precociousness. Enchanting postures and sculptural attitudes also characterized the musically and choreographically innovative Pancha Pravaaha: Five Streams.

Ramya Ramnarayan in Thillana
Parul Shah Dance Company
Parul Shah Dance Company in Samanvay could have stepped out of an Indian miniature painting. They swirled in the typical curved patterns of Kathak, the skirts of their angarkhas reminding us of dancers at the courts of Mughal emperors and their vassal kings. Each of the dancers is different, yet they move as a unit, in and out of patterns that are choreographically sophisticated. The turns and stops are at once based on tradition and reveal a very contemporary view of Kathak. Not surprisingly, the piece as it stands today reflects both the strengths of its original choreographer, Parul’s guru Kumudini Lakhia, and Parul’s own very 21st century vision in her reworking of that choreography. There is a post-modern edge to the whole – in a sudden swivel of the head, in a series of twirls that ends in stillness, bodies close to the floor – due more to the manner in which energy is manipulated than to any departure from ‘tradition’ per se.

An excerpt from Quiet Fire - the first of two dances presented by Parijat Desai Dance Company – was accompanied by music commissioned by Ms Desai, which even on tape remains a strong element of the work. This choreographer’s blending of various Asian martial arts forms, elements of Bharatanatyam, yoga, and modern dance serve well her investigation of philosophical and ethical ideas embedded in the Bhagavad Gita. The picture of Riyo Mito, standing still at the end of a repetitive movement phrase and asking aloud what she should do, eloquently captures the dilemma of prince Arjuna (whether to fight or not) that lies at the heart of this ancient text.

Parijat Desai Dance Company
MariaColacoDance presented …two, three, four… a short but energetic work set to the pulsating music of Phillip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s Meetings Along the Edge. The choreography too included moves that were ‘on the edge’ - in the sense that were tinged with danger - as eight dancers ran past each other, twisted, tumbled and lifted each other precariously while forming ever shifting collages.  Although Ms Colaco’s background does not, by her own admission, include any Indian dance training, she is very inspired by her Indian roots.
Riyo Mito and Parijat Desai in Rewired 
Amina Ahmed and Prachi Dalal (directors of combined event)
The evening ended with Parijat Desai Dance Company in Rewired, a trio that investigates aspects of Bharatanatyam, such as its finely etched hasta and its close-to-the-earth stance - with the enquiring mind of a modern dancer who grew up in the Indian Diaspora. We were brought right back to the nominal theme of both the art exhibit and dance presentation: Site of Departure Source of Arrival.

Each of the works engages in a conversation - typical of an immigrant, or first generation American - between the cultural forms and thinking of her or his ‘home country’ and the new country of residence – even birth. Each artist addresses different topics and, naturally, has individual concerns, but the overall discourse is shared, even if only because each artist operates in a cross-cultural context. Thus every effort to encourage viewers to traverse the boundaries between two often separate areas of artistic endeavour is to enrich one’s understanding of the kinds of factors that lead them – regardless of medium - to express what they do in the particular ways they chose to.

Trained since childhood in classical Indian dance and music, Rajika Puri’s Bharatanatyam guru was Sikkil Guru Ramaswamy Pillai, her Odissi Gurukul is that of Deba Prasad Das. Rajika has also studied western music (the voice and piano), American Modern Dance (at the Graham & Cunningham studios in New York), and Flamenco. She lectures on relationships between Indian dance, and music, sculpture, mythology, poetry, and painting - illustrated with slides, story-telling, and excerpts from dances.