A marriage of two worlds

Art begets art. Antonio Vivaldi, in early 18th Century Mantua, gave a musical expression to each season in Nature —perhaps the greatest art of all — and Washington-based dance group Dakshina’s performance, Sangamam, at the Museum Theatre this week translated the music of the Four Seasons to modern contemporary dance movement, with elements of ballet.

Organised by the US Consulate, the dance was performed by Helen Carruthers,Valerie Branch, Miguel Alcantara, Julia DeGregorio and Jamal Black. The choreographer, Daniel Phoenix Singh, was however, not on tour. Dressed in flowy green outfits, the dancers defined the beauty in the changing seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter, through movements meant to reflect the unique joy of each. Furthermore, after every season, a sonnet or a poem encapsulating the spirit of the next act was recited.

The four seasons are divided into three sections of fast-slow-fast movements; the allegro bits performed as a group and the adagio performed solo or as a pair. Beginning with the spring blooms, the dancers are light on their feet and twirl as if they are attached to an invisible string. Summer came upon us next and the music as well as dance turned urgent, dramatising the approaching thunder and lightning. Black in his second solo, especially, had pathos written all over his face.

Autumn changed the mood back to a lighter one, filled with the childhood joy of playing with fallen leaves. DeGregorio was beautiful in her solo act, her gown billowing as she made smooth pique turns, her foot looking like it was cutting through butter. The winter section on the other hand, was more forceful, representing a push and pull relationship with snow: it can give you hell, it can give you joy.

When the five of them were on stage together, there was no rigid sync between them at all times. Every dancer seemed to be simultaneously performing their own moves, telling their own stories, all seemingly unrelated in one moment and coming together the next. Modern dance is freer than the rigid structures of ballet.

The most striking thing was the abstract nature of the performance. As an audience, we are attuned to being told a narrative. There are no answers here, the story is what you make of it. In that way it is similar to a song with no words: the language is music and it must suffice. When the troupe moved on to its second act, ‘Chakra’, however, it took me to a territory both familiar and unfamiliar at once. Familiar because it told the Mahabharata story of Abhimanyu entering the chakravyuh, unfamiliar because it marries modern dance with Bharatanatyam. The dance evoked the aftermath of war, of love and lives lost.

It was a strange combination but one that seemed natural on stage: lifts, twirls, turns and even flips performed while keeping mudras intact. Interestingly, since their footwork did not always follow the Bharatanatyam style, the dancers wore salangai on their arms and as a breastplate over their saffron robes instead. The dancers switched from contemporary footwork in the jazzy portions of the song to Bharatanatyam, with traces of Kathak, in the percussive sections.

Black, Carruthers and Alcantara took over the roles of Arjuna, Subhadra and Abhimanyu but it was Branch who was ultimately devastating in her role as a mourning Uttara. The stage went dark as the piece reached its climax: the war scene, Alcantra engaged in a poi face off against the other four, who moved threateningly towards him, swinging balls of white light.

The four form a circle that Alcantra entered and crumpled down like paper, signifying Abhimanyu’s death. Branch returned with a moving performance of Uttara discovering the dead body of her husband — folding in on herself and beating the salangai on her chest. As Branch tenderly arranged the poi lights like flowers on Alcantra, it left one question hanging in the air: Who is better off in a war: the deceased or the survivor?

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 12:55:48 AM |

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