Hot Talas, Cool Rasas
- Aneal Krishnamurthy, VA

November 4, 2005

On October 29, 2005, Mallika Sarabhai and Darpana Dance Company enthralled local rasikas at the Tawes Theatre (University of Maryland, College Park) with their deep understanding of and passion for traditional Bharatanatyam as well as their experimentation with modern dance. Titled Hot Talas, Cool Rasas, the evening commenced with Nataraja Vandanam in praise of Lord Nataraja. The dancers, costumed in traditional attire, celebrated Bharatanatyam by highlighting its power, strength, vigor and rhythmic syncopations. The dancers' nritta was impeccable and exquisite to watch. All the dancers performed with a high level of energy and were perfectly coordinated. An interesting aspect of the performance was the speaking of the jathis by the dancers themselves as they danced. It was something unusual yet highly effective. Mallika Sarabhai's stylized abhinaya was effectively conveyed during a solo interlude. The high quality of the recorded music by the Darpana musicians enhanced the performance's overall impact.

After a brief intermission, Mallika Sarabhai appeared on stage in a simple kurta/pyjama and quipped that now that they had established their classical dance credentials, the dancers would now showcase more abstract contemporary items. Bird in My Ceiling explored intolerance and the roots of hatred. Set to a score of four poems from Dipti Naval's book Black Wind, the piece involved the depiction of a woman in a mental asylum and society's attempt to lock her away. Concept and choreography were by Mallika Sarabhai.

Marking the Space, choreographed by Padmakumar Damodaran, flowered from the choreographer's family background where dancing was considered taboo. The dancer felt the need to create a space in which to explore his passion for dance. This abstract piece was an exploration of space, through bodies, movement and rhythm. Set to a slowly repeated jathi, the dancers created a square by each dancer having their movements flow into the next dancer's movements. This highly effective piece showed off the gracefulness of the dancers.

I Rise had Mallika Sarabhai interpreting Maya Angelou's famous poem. Set to an Indian interpretation of jazz by Mark Haydon, the piece focused on the strength of a woman. The poem was recited with passion and fire.

Celebration was a celebration of the differences in dance. Choreographed by Mallika Sarabhai and her son, Revantha, this piece really showed how differences in dance can make different styles beautiful in their own way. The dancers were paired up and dressed in color coordinated costumes, one modern and one traditional. Dancing to the same music, the pairs showed the beauty of their respective styles by engaging in the vocabulary of each style. What was striking about the show as a whole and this piece in particular was that what was presented was not a fusion of traditional and modern. The dancers showed their deep love and respect for each style by performing each distinctively. There was no watering down of what is traditional in order to make it modern.

My World, choreographed by Padmakumar Damodaran and danced along with Akshay Patel, was about the sense of self. How we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how we would like to be perceived. The duo mirrored each other across the stage showing off their skills in the martial art of Kalaripayattu from Kerala. The movements were fluid, precise, and very well coordinated.

Kaun set to a 12th Century Sufi poem sung by the group Indian Ocean was a striking visual presentation. Dressed in Sufi-like white costumes, the dancers carried masks to hide their faces. Mallika Sarabhai explained that in this world, we hide from our true selves by putting on a mask of wealth and power. When we do go in search of our true selves, we cannot face the truth and continue to hide behind the mask. When we see someone without a mask, we shun them because we cannot face ourselves. This very theatrical item was well received by the audience. Choreography was by Mallika Sarabhai.

The evening concluded with Tic Toc, a celebration of the power of movement. The percussion-heavy music was the background to some very acrobatic modern dance movements. The dancers showed off their high level of energy, flexibility and incredible coordination. Choreography was by Mallika and Revanta Sarabhai.

The Darpana Dance Company included Mallika Sarabhai, Manoj Bagga, Minakshi Prabhatbhai Baria, Padmakumar Damodaran, Akshay Patel, Revanta Sarabhai, Arundhati Singha, and Sonal Solanki.

As a final note, kudos to Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company for bringing Hot Talas, Cool Rasas to the Washington, D.C area and putting together Experience India, a month-long festival of Indian dance and arts. Our region has been culturally enriched through these efforts.

Aneal Krishnamurthy is an admirer of the classical Indian dance forms. Although a lawyer by profession, he has been deeply interested in promoting the classical Indian arts in the United States. Through his critical writings, he hopes to share his thoughts on the current state of classical Indian dance as well as the future direction the dance forms may take