(As published in India Currents)
Abhinaya Dance Company’s 29th production—“Nritya Sangati” (Dance Progressions)—will recast the basics of traditional bharatanatyam in a new light and depict heroines donning new personas when faced with challenges.
The opening is a 13-dancer adavu sangati, using percussive theater show “Stomp” as the inspiration. Adavus are the movement alphabet of bharatanatyam; any composition is made up of several adavus. A dancer’s first year is spent learning to perfect these movements in 3 speeds; the teacher beats out a rhythm by banging a wooden baton-like stick on a small wooden base. Mythili Kumar, artistic director of Abhinaya says, “Dancers doing the adavus are stamping, jumping, and moving in a stylized manner. The manifestation is very “Stomp”-like in class, so we decided to stage it as such.”
The narrative component is central to “Nritya Sangati,” where the San Jose dance company will highlight the progression of relationships in the lives of women, especially those that step out of given roles, homes, and homelands to emerge with new identities. One story depicts the journey of Jhalkari Bai, who progressed out of her traditional role as demure village woman to fight valiantly in the army of the Rani of Jhansi. The second is set in modern times, about a young Indian woman’s adoptive and adaptive lifestyle in the U.S. And a third piece is a take on immigrant life in the U.S. in the form of an older woman who’s come of age in India and feels spotlighted by her Indian attire and values in her “foreign” neighborhood.
A bharatanatyam recital usually includes ancient literature, and one composition blends together poetry by Purandara Dasa, Jayadeva, and Meera Bai, depicting the progression of a woman’s earthly soul, to the divine in three acts: “Vatsalya” (Parental Love), “Sringara” (Romantic Love), and Dasya or Atmanivedanam (Selfless Devotion and Surrender), respectively. The sangati theme will be carried into two more nritta (rhythmic composition) pieces—gati sangati will showcase a creative choreography involving five gatis, or time measures of 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 beats. “Swara Laya Sangati,” a composition by Abhinaya’s summer guest artist Madurai Ramachandran Muralidharan will have varied patterns of swaras (musical notes) and jathis (adavu combinations) interweaving in a heady tempo.
To sum up, “Nritya Sangati” is bharatanatyam set against a backdrop of original music, the majority composed by Asha Ramesh, Bay Area’s popular dance-vocalist; topical narratives; time manifested in years and in speeds; and a medley of instruments (tabla, mridangam, moorsing, kanjira, sitar, violin, cymbals, and flute)—a definite must-see.
Saturday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m. Mexican Heritage Theater, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Sunday, Nov. 15, 2 p.m. Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, San Francisco. $15 general; $10 student/senior. (408) 871-5959. firstname.lastname@example.org.