Drawing on her passions, a connection with the Indian mystic and a background in modern dance, North American choreographer Deborah Abel presented ‘Calling to You - A Tale of Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World’ in a three-city India tour.
Strange it must have been to bring Indian thought to India encased in a western vocabulary, but Deborah had no reticence. Her creation was dramatic, if a bit far-fetched, scripted with two human interest stories running parallel, one set in ancient times in India and one in the modern era, in the West presumably. They merge ultimately when the ancient couple (dancers Joe Gonzalez and Merli V. Guerra), having reunited, transfer their spiritual energy miraculously to the modern couple.
Though ‘Calling to You’ carried the implausible issue of time travel and the challenge of conveying Eastern spirituality through Western dance, Deborah offered no logical explanations. She emphasised the artistic visuals with clever layering, visually in which the out-of-sync modern couple was confined to a domestic scene in the foreground, while the spiritual awakening in ashrams and temples took place in the rear, and contextually, when the stories were deftly alternated in the narration.
A dining table and a bed were central to the modern couple, dancers Michael Thomas and Hadassah Segal, as the movements centred on or around the props.
The movements were sharp, with contact improvisation stretching the range of back bends and lifts, with every landing precise. Just as the lyrics ‘…storm rages in my crumbling heart...’ reflected the agitation and the negative orientation of the dancers, the lighting was also straightforward and realistically white.
The meditative scenes on the contrary had a hazy tinge; bold lighting in blues and yellows on a large white backdrop dramatised the moment.
The movements were more expansive, with sweeping arms and floor work, though the duets and the lifts were seen here as well. Arms were raised up repeatedly representing supplication to a higher power, with a few mudras or hand gestures used pointedly to give an ‘Indian’ flavour. The ashram scene opened to a graphic picture of seated monks shrouded in white muslin, swaying to an inaudible rhythm, a display of Deborah's inspired imagery.
The show had its high moments in the ‘Tiger Spirits’ scene, when Viveka stumbles upon them in the forest a fight between man and beast follows, and in the duet between the modern couple when they dance with a pillow, throwing the pillow on the floor and throwing themselves accurately on it.
There was a clear distinction in the original musical score (Lee Perlman), played live- the ‘Indian’ scenes used Hindu Sanskrit words such as ‘Omkaara, Sankaraa’ and ‘Priya Bhakti, Siva Shakti,’ while the modern couple had English lyrics and Cat Stevens-style vocals with acoustic guitar. Chinese-sounding plaintive notes on the violin and flute, and a percussive range in the tabla, Tibetian gongs, the African djembe and the Arabian dumbeck gave an Oriental twist to the music, but the idea palled when used repeatedly. In the 75-minute show, the only drawback was the sameness of the tunes.