Friday, September 30, 2016

SRIYAH - The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble

The Playhouse Canberra Theatre Centre – 25th September

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Surupa Sen - Bijayini Satpathy
Photo: Nan Melville

Watching the dancers of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble it was impossible not to be reminded of those statues of Indian temple dancers striking exotic poses. Not surprising when you realise that the exquisite dancers you are watching on stage are performing exactly the dances that inspired those poses.

The three dancers with the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, Surupa Sen, Bijayini Satpathy and Pavithra Reddy,  have devoted more than 20 years of their lives to preserving the art of  Odissi dance, and ancient and sensual dance-form on performed in temple courts for kings.  

Pavithra Reddy - Surupa Sen - Bijayini Satpathy

Photo: Nan Melville

Six days a week, twice a day, they rehearse twice a day perfecting the intricate moves which involve the whole body, especially the eyes, feet and legs and of course the beautiful finger movements.
Appearing in Australia for the first time, as part of the ambitious Confluence Festival of India in Australia, the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble consists of the three dancers and four musicians. The musicians sit cross-legged on one side of the stage, and play a drum, a violin, a flute and a wood accordion. One of the musicians also sings to accompany some of the dances.

Otherwise the stage is bare, apart from the musicians and a decorated deity figure positioned in a spotlight on the opposite corner to the musicians. Subtle lighting suggests various moods so that the attention of the audience is squarely focussed on the performances of the sumptuously costumed dancers.

This performance commenced with candles being placed before the deity heralding the entrance of each of the dancers to pay homage before launching into a trio for which the three dancers moved in perfect unison and synchronisation. This dance allowed the audience to appreciate the subtleties of the Odissi technique perfected by the dancers over years of devoted practice.

The dancers then performed a succession of exquisite solos, duets and trios. Perhaps the most memorable being a first century prayer for which the solo dancer executed a series of intricate hand, eye and body movements which perfectly interpreting the meaning of each word.

Frustratingly, there were no printed programs to accompany the performance, so that the audience had no way of knowing which dancer was performing which dance, and although some items were preceded by a cultured voice-over announcement, the unfamiliar names were meaningless.
This was an unfortunate oversight, as these dancers and musicians are among the countries most accomplished artists who have devoted their lives to becoming guardians of some of India’s most important cultural history.

On discovering the lack of programs, this reviewer approached an accompanying official to request details, only to be directed to the Confluence website where, the official assured, full details would be found. However, apart from some general information about the company, there are no names of dancers or musicians or of the items performed, on this website.

The names in this review are extracted from the captions on the photographs on the website.

Bijayini Satpathy
Photo: Shalihi Jain

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