Mudra Dance Company, Kartikeya
4-6 August 2017, Whitireia Performance Centre, Wellington
Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan
A buzzing drone of the chitravina in the dark quietly draws us towards India – a slow lemon light dawns and we travel nearer – more light, and we feel we have arrived. Nag Champa incense burns side-stage at the shrine to Kartikeya, youngest son of Shiva and beloved deity of many Indian households. Kartikeya will ride a peacock, gambol among goats, urge elephants in high mountains to reach for the moon, prepare offerings of sandalwood for the gods above him in the pantheon, use his spear to kill demons and his six faces to watch out for danger, and whose name titles the programme. A shimmering affair of a dozen exquisite young women in brightest silks and shining jewels, outshone only by their radiant smiles, performing in the sure knowledge that they have a master teacher, and that all their friends and family, and many more besides, will make capacity audiences across a three-night season. Perhaps it is India come to us?
Something like the above has been happening for nigh on 30 years in Wellington, as Mudra’s director, Vivek Kinra, has trained scores of young dancers to professional standard. His own performing was legendary – let’s make that “is”, since he still takes the stage for a few moments before a danced item, to mime the synopsis of a choreography. His every gesture, pose and expression reveals the spirit and power of a very great dancer, his own training at Kalakshetra, and his decades of commitment here since. We are not looking at young dancers deprived of anything by the demands of their art. They are also college or university students, graduates of education and engineering, policy and planning, they work for the Defence Force or NIWA; they are teachers or medics, violinists, criminologists or environmentalists. O India.
The opening Alarippu is a bud that slowly blooms. You’d want to commission one for your child’s Naming Day. The Varnam that ends the first half of the programme is a mighty thing, to match a chaconne of Bach. The piece is performed by Banu Siva, Kaajal Patel and Zeenat Vintiner (whose moving story of her adoption at three by a New Zealand family was told recently in local media. Vintiner is going to be a primary school teacher). The solo Thiruppugarh, danced by Kaajal Patel is a splendid achievement (Patel is following Psychology studies and is too, preparing to become a primary school teacher).
A beguiling dance of tribal hunter folk gives opportunity to the younger generation of dancers in Mudra, assuring us there is much to look forward to. The closing dance, Tillana, is, as always, a thrilling affair as the full company swathe in great curving paths across the stage, tempo builds, volume rises, and we are carried to an ecstatic conclusion of a stunning programme. The only bad thing is that there’s just one season a year so you’ll have to wait too long for the next one.