Review: Shivalingappa spins a trance at EMPAC

In Shantala Shivalingappa’s stillness and in her flight, she radiates a subtle, but intense energy t

In Shantala Shivalingappa’s stillness and in her flight, she radiates a subtle, but intense energy that compels her audience to watch.

The traditional Indian dancer, as seen on Saturday night at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is a gifted artist who honors the intent and spirit behind her Kuchipudi style. At the same time, she leaves room for contemporary dance to probe its decorum in the most respectful ways.

In her program that juxtaposed her two preoccupations — traditional dance and contemporary dance tinged by the traditional — she demonstrated that it was not the choreography that made her solos so stimulating. It was her vibrancy — or as she would put it, the vibration — that she invested in it. As one woman there said, “You want to see her resolution.”

The evening began with Shivalingappa’s most spellbinding pieces, the ones that were absorbed in other movement forms. The first solo, “Shift,” was co-created with Pina Bausch, a German neo-expressionist; the second, “Smarana,” with Ushio Amagastu, a butoh master. Both were fascinating.

This gorgeous artist first entered in “Shift” with her hair pulled back in a long ponytail and wearing a dark camisole and flowing pants. Walking slowly along a shaft of light, she quickly dropped into low, lingering crouches. She lunged and kicked, as if a martial artist. But her erect upper body was gracious, adorned by snaky arms and finger dances that referenced her years as a Kuchipudi dancer. To a drum beat, her stretched squats, traveling from one end of the floor to the other, filled the stage.

In “Smarana,” she started off seated, with her back to the audience. In silence, her hands performed a dance and she observed them as if they were separate from her body. When a flute pierced the silence, her range of movement expanded — but hardly. She kept the audience focused on her hands as she remained centerstage. She ended with her fingers shaped into the symbol of the lotus flower raised above her head.

The program broke for an extended intermission as Shivalingappa prepared to present two solos of traditional dance. She needed the time to decorate her fingers and feet in henna; her hair, bejeweled and encircled with a floral headpiece; and to accentuate her eyebrows in order to exaggerate her facial expressions. Her costume was elaborate, too. Her silk sari apron was pleated precisely to allow for her brisk movement and belled anklets were wrapped around her legs, so she tinkled with every step.

After the long intermission and a musical interlude by a quartet of classical south Indian musicians who performed chant, percussion, mridangam and flute with recorded veena, Shivalingappa’s transformation was complete.

She performed excerpts from “Gamaka,” which surveyed some of the 2,000-year-old rituals inherent in the Kuchipudi tradition. With the musical quartet accompanying her, Shivalingappa performed “Varnam,” a lively narrative dance that is dedicated to OM. She finished with the rhythmic “Tillanna,” in which her head, neck and eyes played a central part of the animated, bouncy spectacle.

This final piece was dedicated to Shiva Nataraja, the lord of the dance. Nataraja, like the audience, was surely well-pleased.

Categories: Entertainment

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