August 20, 2014
Whatever you bring to her performances, Dakshina Vaidyanathan is sure to make you forget. The Bharatanatyam master has a gentle command of her space that eases you in preparation to feel fully. Her inhales draw you closer from your seat. Her gaze radiates upon the environment in an evenhanded appreciation of ubiquitous beauty, but if you’re lucky enough to make eye contact, the intensity of her stare is enough to mistake her performance being for you alone. Dance of Nature could never be that exclusive. Vaidyanathan is an open channel extolling all.
Trees begin the journey. Vaidyanathan stands in a spotlight, rooted as a trunk.
Her arms cross overhead before nimbly sinking and rising through lunges, balances, and microscopic isolations between sections where, as a person, she blesses a tree just beyond her fixed point. She reaches to imaginary branches not to have, but to acknowledge. Hands re-embody the tree in oppositions. One roots down as the other, in the same shape, blossoms high, mapping the journey to supreme consciousness wrought by self-introspection. Her ending posture is the beginning’s, but with palms pressed together in anjali mudra, profoundly implicating the tiniest change.
She meditates on life and death through the universal mother, Parvati, and Siva, her destructive spouse. Vaidyanathan accumulates in embodiment of them. Her left hand flows in a sinuous caress while her right chops with fiery articulation. In body halves, her left side slithers and softens, followed by the same shapes more aggressively on the right. Her entire body travels in space to her left in maternal frenzy, and blazes through her right with trembling hands and percussive jumps. The movements blend physically and spatially, distinguished only in stretches of time. Occasionally, Vaidyanathan places herself center stage, human again, as if to assure us she’s ok, then concludes with both deities in her face, looking left with warmth and a furrowed brow and darting right with a grimace of burning eyeballs until the music releases her.
After a lament to a cuckoo bird resembling Vishnu, similarly constructed in representation, the final dance celebrates rain’s connection of all life. To a joyous repeated melody, Vaidyanathan quotes previous sections. She leaps through every inch of La MaMa’s humble theatre. The music has several breaks in repetition in which the singer sits on the raga’s leading tone in short cadenzas, during which Vaidyanathan engages a puddle of rain water. She takes a handful, tosses it, and, after demonstrating how clouds drink up the Earth, takes a sip for herself.
Choreographer Rama Vaidyanathan uses physical personification to express parallels in all nature.
He composes movement synonyms, different body parts representing the same image, sometimes simultaneously. One movement symbolizes opposing ideas – trembling hands depicting both Siva’s wrath and a bird’s meek flutter. To depict so much on the same human form shows us hidden similarities and harmony in difference. Dakshina, fully fluent, is able to see and admire the universe in a black box theatre. We only see and admire her.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews