A date with America
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
e-mail: padmajayaraj@sancharnet.in

December 14, 2005

Thalam, a cultural organization in Thrissur, Kerala, India, is a byword for innovation. A date with America marked the beginning of its cultural year this November. The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company has come for a residency program at Mudra, Kochi, from San Francisco, USA. Margaret Jenkins, Padma Menon of Mudra and Tanusree, of Anand Shankar Dance Troupe, Kolkota are engaged in cross-cultural collaboration. These three women from disparate cultural backgrounds are to explore a new idiom of body movements to communicate a new aesthetics.

In our globalized environment, crossing boundaries is becoming the norm rather than an exception. And art has evolved through experiments. Since experiencing life is non-linear, the experience of art too has to evolve exploring the artistís relationship with the world. And a new chemistry springs forth when the artists and the audience commune at an experiential level.

Indeed, the cultural capital of Kerala, rooted in age-old traditions of theater and dance went through something new.

A SLIPPING GLIMPSE is a group item, a joint venture. The introductory item opened a new horizon that showed how dancers from diverse cultures generate movements for a specific idea. A voice in the background sang, "of knowing no language, of the inability of utterance when hungry, of collapsing walls in human relations," outlining its theme. And human bodies swayed creating kaleidoscopic images like the stuff of which life is made. If an abstract painter paints a highly personalized poem and you glimpse intimations from your own self... Well, here is an art, of fleeting moments whence the audiences meet the artists half way deciphering a puzzle generating multiple interpretations. Here, in the place of a still canvass that communes with the viewer, the stage is an arena of flux.

"I believe that dance is another way of seeing, a way of experiencing a thought, a feeling and observation," says Margaret Jenkins.

CROSS ROADS is a solo performed by Sulini Nair, of Mudra. It is a highly personalized exploration that evokes universal quests about the dilemmas of life. Choreographed by Padma Menon, the unique piece is a feminine way of understanding and coming to terms with the enigmas and anxieties of the experience called life. Sulini's presentation of a human being at the cross roads, the angst of life, is hauntingly beautiful. Drawing heavily from Indian traditions the dancer epitomizes the human soul caught in the trammels of engulfing life, its loneliness, dignity, and strength. The costume, Indian saree, specifies the ethos of Indian womanhood at the heart of the piece. The dancer portrays an eternal quest underscoring the poignant feminine dimension. Her facial expressions added color and contour to the vivid drama of a physical theater. Although a Mohiniyattam dancer, you see only its grace in her movements.

"This work is about opening new doors, about facing fears and about trusting a certain journey to take its own course," observes Padma Menon.

NATURE is a spectacular dance by two men from Tanusree Shankar Dance Company, Kolkota. The duet focused on 'Storm.' The booming music and thandava style dancing brilliantly presents the raging storm in all its aspects. Beauty is revealed in fury. Every movement is infused with significance, depth, and intensity recalling the dance of the gods. A storm rages and retreats into calm not only in nature but also in human life and the piece becomes a metaphor.

'The Dance of the Mountains,' by the same duo is an evocative piece. In mythical times the mountains had winged the vast. At some point of time, no one knows when, a curse made them immobile. But beneath the stony exterior throb longings to fly and enjoy the freedom taken away from them. So, in the secrecy of the night, away from the glaring eye of the day, the mountains take to wings. The dancers portray the jubilance and celebration of freedom. Once again the item turns out to have layers of meaning as we travel down the lanes of human history. The stony hearts of mountains stand for the lot that slaves endured in the past, what marginalized societies of today suffer in our democracies, and the curse on women whose wings are clipped by the power of the muscle in a callous social order. The unalloyed joy is the birth right of every individual irrespective of exterior. The piece is an eloquent utterance for dignity and freedom among humans, 'the crown and glory of creations'!!!

Tanusree's choreography reaches out to audiences worldwide. It is outstanding and original, giving concrete shape to the music that inspires it and is based on the technique of New Dance pioneered by the legendary Udaya Shankar.

Ms Jenkins choreographed the concluding piece, inspired by the sculptures of a museum in the US. It was modern dance, physicalising ideas. For many of the older generation in Thrissur, the modern dance went over their head. "Dance in the West is just movements while dance in the East has meaning for every movement," said Pepita from Britain who is at home in Kerala. Thalam provided a venue for Thrissurians to feel and know what happens at the other end of the spectrum.

Indeed collaborations open up new horizons where ideas and values fuse to create innovative art forms. The audience sat focused as much as the artists performing on stage did. And that was an experience.

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to narthaki.com