October 10, 2019
While Indian classical dancer Shantala Shivalingappa and four musicians regaled us with five works at The Joyce Theater, the last work Bhairava jolts you immediately with the fierceness of her scolding fingers twitching faster than a typist, held high by the back-lit dancer. For 600 years, Kuchipudi dancers have admonished the heavens in this manner to destroy fear by shocking them with an ascendant lightning rod. This dance makes you feel like a child being intimidated by your mother to Never again do whatever heinous thing you did. Could the inventors of this art have laid the groundwork for radio waves, sending vibrations upward to the “influencers” of their day?
The musicians J. Ramesh (vocalist), K.S. Jayaram (flutist), B.P. Haribabu (percussionist - nattuvangam and pakhwaj), and N. Ramakrishnan (percussionist - mridangam) join the tiny dancer Shivalingappa in every moment and lift us into Akasha which in Sanskrit means Sky or Space. This dancer drops and rebounds in turned out positions, executes the footwork and gestures (mudras) with consistent calm and precision; she is so accomplished that the viewer can muse about what this dance form might have looked like in its first 100 years. How long did it take to gel this art, to decide the timing and exact placement of each mudra?
The other pieces in the program Om Namo Ji Adya, Krishnam Kalaya, Jaya Jaya Durge, and Kirtanam were danced with lyrics dating from the 13th to 16th centuries. The lyric in the first solo with Lyrics by Dhyaneshwar, “I prostrate myself before him (the Supreme Being). In the form of Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, you are the light that enlightens our intellect. The sound ‘A ‘ comes from your lotus-life-feet, ‘U’ emanates from your belly, ‘M’ comes from your crown….”
Before the last piece was an extended percussion duet with a speed and complexity to equal the tapper Savion Glover. Perhaps Glover was a South Indian in another life?
Shivalingappa changed her silk costume only once, from orange and gold which is topped by a headdress that resembles the decoration on the seven lamps, the central one in the triangle being the furthest and highest upstage to a black, green, gold one. Obedient to tradition, yet free to choreograph within those bounds, Shivalingappa offers a profound, thought provoking experience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Deirdre Towers