Samarpana - Vivek Kinra & Mudra Dance Company
31 July 2015, Whitireia Theatre - Wellington
Reviewed by Mona Williams
Vivek’s genius, as Director of Mudra Dance Company, choreographer, dance teacher and producer of this concert, is as undeniable as it is startling. Celebrating the Silver Jubilee of his company, two challenges appeared to imperil the show. Vivek, the consummately exquisite, sole male dancer had chosen a dignified exit from future full time performing. However, the tradition-defined Bharata Natyam dances on the programme, to be performed by an exclusively female corps, chronicled the exalted or destructive actions of male deities. Lord Subrahmanya’s six facets of his complex personality were to be portrayed by beautiful, spirited young women, as would Lord Krishna’s ten incarnations. Given the emphatically gendered tradition of this dance form, how well could females portray a muscular, male, flesh-tearing, half-lion-half-human? Or a boar? Or Buddha? Or an aggressive steed-riding, sword-brandishing, evil-destroying male? Or a god who washes away evil with a flood of blood? How could these fragile-looking beauties, bejewelled from the crowns of their heads to their red-dyed toes, the very symbolic flowers of humanity, cease to be the quintessence of femininity, and conversely, embody a variety of distinctly, overly testosterone-driven gods? Vivek’s brilliance made this seeming contradiction an experiential and visual truth; that is, by simultaneously, both preserving and transforming aspects of traditional Bharata Natyam Dance expression. Such is his power in the Art of Dance.
To clarify for the audience each god’s accomplishments, Vivek, prior to each dance segment, gave a masterly précis of significant details though precise mime. His actions were further explained by an accompanying voice-over commentary. Then, resplendent is sari-silk pleated, draped, multi-hued costumes; and bejewelled in ruby encrusted gold head dress, ankle bells, and red-dyed fingertips, the ladies dramatically entered against a crimson backdrop to the music of flute, voice and drums. The time slipped by. The god of six faces rode a peacock, stood on a hillock with his spear at the ready warrior-like; prayed; destroyed demons, relieved the grief stricken bosoms of his devotees and as the persuasive lover, won the heart of the gypsy Valli and married her. This breadth of the god’s personality and (human’s) conduct gave viewers much with which to identify.
Playing to the strength of his dancers Vivek permitted individuals the chance to dance one particular face of ten-faced Lord Mahvishnu. Dimunitive Varshini Suresh’s interpretation of the cunning dwarf was an inspired choice. Hers was a richly detailed embodiment, achieved with elongated arms, dramatised eyes, fine musicality and sculptural body poses. The signature set pieces of this dance tradition, that is, quick footfalls, expressive darting eyes, neck isolations, syncopated stomping, eloquent arms that portray churning ocean or the sea’s waves, turns and angled side steps in unison, these were excellently executed by the corp. Vivek’s staging, with swirling shapes, sometimes geometrical, sometimes circular, sometimes criss-crossing the floor; with entrances and exits as visually pleasing as the ancient carved sandstone poses of dancing gods standing on one leg; with quick squats, supple bodies, eloquent hand gestures and clearly sounded bells from heel stomps, all maintained many signature motifs of this dance tradition. The scarf around the upper body of soloists, announced that, for that moment, the dancer was a male god. That clue was innovative. The ‘god’ who rode the horse and brandished his blazing sword was one moment a truly triumphant male; yet in the final dance, the Tillana, had morphed back into her convincingly female demeanour. Prince Rama rescuing his abducted wife, and Buddha condemning animal slaughter resonated deeply with concert goers I spoke to. The changing colours of the backdrop and the range of drum, flute and voice music added depth to the Dance experience.
With such a well-disciplined corp of musically attenuated performers, every lady special in a different way, I hope to be forgiven for singling out a few. Rachna, whose physical presence commands attention, danced with abundant grace and assurance and with a keen intelligence. Ashleen’s equestrian god cantering towards the audience with sword aloft was authoritative, emphatic and psychologically true. Zeenat’s attention to minute detail found expression in quick eyes, finger and neck movements that never skimped on maximum delivery within the musical phrase. The ladies were gods; then mortals, ending the evening in the exuberant Tillana. Vivek and Mudra Dance Company have much of which to be proud.