[Dance Review] Na Mah — Expressive Gratitude

Nah MA

Na Mah
Bhaskar’s Arts Academy
16 April 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio
16 April 2016, 3pm & 7:30pm

Before every rehearsal or performance, Bharatanatyam dancers are required to perform the namaskar. It is a ritual which expresses gratitude to Mother Earth, the deities, and their gurus who have brought them to where they are.

If Na Mah is anything to go by, these people, spirits, and elements have done an excellent job with Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA).

In many ways, the repertoire on offer is an extensive namaskar. Deities such as Ganesha, Bhaskara, and Muruga are praised; the wonders of nature is an analogy of the nature of love; and the skill, precision, and presence on display testify to the wisdom and efficacy of the gurus.

In the course of this thanksgiving, the audience is reminded of how the body is a fantastic instrument for story-telling. The group numbers—especially Bhaskaraya and The Peacock’s Cue—are wonderful spectacles as the dancers come together to form distinct iconographies of the gods, or inject a certain energy in celebration of a deity’s divinity. This is achieved through the contrast between stillness and exuberant footwork. The slight variation in the way each dancer executes the gestures or facial expressions also present the multi-faceted nature of the deities.

That said, there are a couple of occasions when the dancers missed their marks by a hair’s breadth. But they are so minor that they hardly mar an otherwise beautiful performance.

The solo numbers prove that abhinaya (expressive elements) is a forte of BAA’s soloists. The exactness of the gestures, and the nuances of the facial expressions not only tell classic stories, such as Shakuntala searching for Dushyanta in Maaney, it also expounds on abstract concepts such as the nature of love in Vaanil Mukilodum.

The ability to portray an array of emotions, coupled with the different physicalities of the masculine, feminine, and animal within a split second indicates a high level of craftsmanship. From the feelings of joy and longing when one is in love, to seeing a series of flowers bloom with a mere flourish of the hands, it is impossible to take one’s eyes off the soloists.

It is important to note that the programme also includes two Kathak solos by Pallavi Sharma. While she brilliantly executes her steps in Shiv Stuti, the choreography does not bring out the enormity of Shiva’s cycle of nothingness to everythingness, and everythingness to nothingness. However, she is an absolute treat in And This is Love…. Sharma brings out the coy flirtation of lovers through motifs of looking and hiding, and slowly progresses into a series of spins which evokes the all-encompassing and thrilling feeling of love.

It would be remiss of me not to praise the musicians (Ampili Pillai, Arasakumari Nagaradjane, Ghanavenothan Retnam, TV Sajith, TK Arunkumar, S Harikrishnan, Imran Khan, Nasir Khan, Shakeel Ahmed Khan) for their artistry in enhancing the dances. From the meditative to the earthy rhythms of joy, the music is evocative, hypnotic, and potentially therapeutic.

It is unfortunate that we have no ritual of our own to thank the performers for the sacrifices that they have made. Perhaps, the best thing we can do is to show our continuous support and introduce more people to their work. And Bhaskar’s Arts Academy definitely deserves that.

[Dance Review] Torobaka — A Parley of Traditions

torobaka

Photo: Jean -Louis Fernandez

Torobaka
Akram Khan & Israel Galván
16 October 2015
Esplanade Theatre
16–17 October 2015
Part of da:ns Festival 2015

There is something uncomfortable about Torobaka. How is it possible for two dancers to collaborate on a show with the bull as its main metaphor when one of them comes from a culture which reveres the animal, while the other slays it?

“Anarchy” says the programme notes. The only solution is to go against tradition and come together as two dancing bodies.

The result: Two phenomenal dancers in a bullring that duel, complement, and play with each other.

One of the main impetuses of this performance is a response to a problem in most intercultural collaborations. Rather than digging deep by investigating the vocabularies and limits of both traditions, most performances are often a sophisticated version of dance school recitals. Both traditions are placed alongside each other and the audience is asked to draw up a list of similarities and differences between them.

Torobaka is definitely not one of them. In this work, we see Khan and Galván rolling up their sleeves, giving all that their traditions offer, and summarily tossing them out as well. In many ways, the dances are respecting their traditions in their truthful assessment of what they can offer.

The show starts off with both dancers performing moves inspired by both traditions but expressed in their own way. While Galván’s angular flamenco lines and Khan’s fluid lines are still somewhat discernible, the audience will be hard-pressed to tease out which moves belong to which tradition. And that is the point.

The performance then progresses to a series of solos where both dancers openly defy both traditions. If “purists” were seething at both dancers before, they will go into cardiac arrest this time.

Think Khan dancing with hands in flamenco boots or silencing the jaleos (shouts of encouragement) by the Spanish palmero (rhythm clapper), Bobote.

Aside from his usual fare of breaking the lines expected of a flamenco dancer, Galván’s ferocious and primal solos were ornamented with playful squawks and gestures. At one point, I gasped as he stomps on Khan’s ghungaroos (ankle bells) and performs a series of footwork. However, with the jingling of the bells to accompany his footwork, it feels as if he is performing a duet with Khan.

In other solos, it is clear that both men are going back to the roots as if to remind the audience of where they came from. The show ends with the dancers coming full circle by locking horns and combating each other in the only way that they know how.

If the choreography is complex, the music that accompanies it tops that. It is a wondrous amalgamation of classical kathak and flamenco rhythms that are lyrically guided by songs from western classical and folk traditions.

Percussion enthusiasts would revel in B. C. Manjunath alternating between vocalising kathak rhythms and counting in Spanish while playing the pakhawaj (percussive drum comprising two kettle drums tied together) or duffali (hand drum).

Vocal and choral lovers will enjoy the interweaving of David Azurza’s counter-tenor vocals with Christine Leboutte’s lower range. Add Bobote’s clapping into the mix and we get music that is profoundly meditative, dramatic, and playful at various times.

Torobaka puts creativity, energy, and passion back into dance as it excavates the dynamics of human interaction as well as forming new movement vocabularies. In essence, Khan and Galván show us how anarchy and tradition can co-exist within the realm of human expression.

Other Reviews

“da:ns Fest 2015: Akram Khan, Israel Galvan go mano a mano” by Mayo Martin, Today

“Duality in Harmony” by Germaine Cheng, The Straits Times Life! 

“Torobaka Review” by Ezekiel Oliveria, Five Lines