Parijat Desai Dance Company's fusion performance aesthetically blended Bharatanatyam dance tropes with the Western idiom

The fusion of dance forms sounds like such a cliché in our post-postmodern times, and indeed can often be reduced to one. Still, Indian-born, U.S.-bred Parijat Desai has attracted some positive attention and press, with her fusion of classical Bharatanatyam dance tropes with the Western idiom. She formed the Parijat Desai Dance Company in 2000, which is currently based in New York. In Chennai, the Company recently presented two pieces choreographed by Desai, Make Space and Songs to Live For, at the Museum Theatre, as part of The Park's New Festival, the city's annual contemporary arts festival organised by the Prakriti Foundation.

Between the two, Make Space, displaying a variety of influences from Bharatanatyam to jazz to modern American dance, was the more organically realised. The piece, about opening up space within the classical dance form, was opened by a single dancer, which quickly became a quartet and eventually expanded to include all six dancers.

As is often the case with fusion work, the dancers tried to isolate elements of one of the dance forms — Bharatanatyam — by pairing hand mudras with modern movements, for instance, or emphasising the rhythmic footwork of classical dance, by setting it to a high-energy electronic score by South Asian artists including Zakir Husain and a Talvin Singh remix by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The music seemed to shape both the individual expressions of the dancers as well as the synchronised movement pieces; for example, a short solo by Japanese dancer Riyo Mito — whose personal vocabulary hinted at both ballet and gymnastics training — was set to some electronic nattuvangam.

The second work, Songs To Live For, however, tried to cram too many elements into one piece and the resultant experience felt extremely disjointed. The dance unfolded as discrete, unconnected segments: solos, some pas de deux styled partnering, an evocation of some sort of dance “salon”, with individual dancers encouraging the seated dancers on stage to dance. There were also several background projections, such as a changing kaleidoscope created by Indian miniatures, and a cycle of feathery sketches that resolved into two peacock feathers.

Individual components of this production were aesthetically pleasant — the floating draperies of the dancers' cream-coloured costumes, for example, or the various pieces of evocative Hindustani music to which the dance was set, including haunting vocals by Bhimsen Joshi, Shobha Gurtu and Shobhana Ram. While it was possible to appreciate the aesthetics of some of these elements, it failed to come together as a coherent whole.

Make Space's more distinct through-line worked better for the company's dancers — Parijat Desai, Riyo Mito, Matt Pardo, Mika Yanagihara, Darlisa Wajid-Ali — themselves an East-West blend.

Keywords: Bharatanatyam

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