Anand: Joy in Motion

July 31, 2009 at 2:56 am | Posted in Event Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Last night I went to the opening night of the Mudra Dance Company‘s “Anand: Joy in Motion”. This was my first foray into Bharata-Natyam dance. So it was with some trepidation that I went Vivek Kinra’s 20th Bharata-Natyam production in New Zealand.

I got there nice and early to – quite by accident – so I had time to read the well put together glossy programme. I was very impressed by the biographies of the senior dancers – all held tertiary qualifications, or were studying for tertiary qualifications, one was studying for a PhD in physics, while another held a PhD in Marine Ecology.

July 30, 2009 by Show_Hanger

The Victoria University Memorial Theatre was transformed through lighting, colour and a little bit of incense.

There were five works:

  • Natesha Kautuvam
  • Ardhanareeshwara
  • “Enneenna vilaiyadalamma …”
  • Darpana: Reflections
  • Shiva Geeta Mala

Natesha Kautuvam was danced by the more advanced students in Vivek Kinra’s Dance Academy. Whereas the other pieces featured dancers who had graduated from the Academy and Kinra. The contrast was interesting, to my uneducated eye, the senior pupils seems very good, but the graduates clearly were much more assured and several levels ahead.

I found the Ardhanareeshwara piece – a solo by Kinra – fascinating. The dance is around the methological figure of Ardhanareeshwara who is half man and half woman – Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Kinra dances as a man with the right side of his body and as a woman with the left side of his body. The aim, I infer from the programme, is to arrive at a balance. This piece was introduced with an English explanation, with Kinra showing off the basic dance metaphors that would be used in the piece itself.

Even though the last piece Shiva Geeti Mala took up the entire second half, I get the feeling that it was a significantly truncated from the original 17 chapter poem.

The story appeared fairly simple: Lord Shiva is seen by his consort dancing with the celestial nymphs and becomes angry with him, and takes herself away, but they are eventually reconcilled. I suspect in the longer versions of the work (and poem), Nandi (danced by Anjali Pande) – the bull – plays a much more significant role than I saw last night. Still, Nandi was clearly in thrall to Lord Shiva; perhaps he is there to show Lord Shiva’s supremacy over all. Which of course, counter-points Parvati’s several rejections of him. Perhaps to show that everyone – even the supreme one – can be held to account.

The Apsara – the celestial nymphs – are danced with grace, and so of course Lord Shiva wants to dance with them. Parvati understandably is hurt by this, especially when she has made a long journey to be with him. There is some very clever use of lighting and back projection to show Lord Shiva’s court at the top of the Himalayas, and Parvati’s journey through the jungle.

Kinra dances the part of Lord Shiva, and for all that he is a god; he is clearly upset by Parvati’s rejection. But, perhaps from a western perspective, it is Shrividya Ravi, as Parvati, who almost steals the show. Her portrayal of the slighted, pinning, yearning Parvati is much more accessible than the magnificant god Shiva.

Sakhi (danced by Ashleen Deepika Singh) is Paravti’s friend who acts as peacemaker between her and the Lord Shiva.

The finale gave another insight into this dance form. The pas de deux with Lord Shiva and Parvati differ very much from the western forms that I am more familiar with: the tendency is to day alongside each other – almost never facing each other, and seldom touching each other. Female Bharata-Natyam dancers don’t need to be supported! Bharata-Natyam dance has elements of grace, speed, power and rhythm; the dancers often slap their feet in time to the music, and at other times leap and land silently; there is also use of the shoulders, arms and hands.

I realised about a third of the way through Shiva Geeti Mala, that the sound track included vocals – so that had I understood Hindi (?) even more of the story would have available to me. I think the production achieves a good balance between the use of English and Bharata-Natyam’s ethnic roots.

I enjoyed my first evening of Bharata-Natyam dance. I think that there is something for everyone – including food. At the interval, the food was Indian.

I was disappointed by two things: the light from the control room was too bright and illuminated the back third of the theatre; the first night audience was relatively lsmall. The latter disappointment is for the Company, who clearly worked very hard to produce a quality production.

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Ballet Dancers in Career Transition

July 24, 2009 at 12:37 am | Posted in Book Review | Leave a comment
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Ballet Dancers in Career Transition by

Nancey Upper
McFarland & Company, Inc.,
Jefferson, North Carolina and London

2004
ISBN 0-7864-1819-2

Another book review … !

June 30, 2009 by


Paper Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
Wellington
New Zealand

Ballet Dancers in Career Transition – by Nancy Upper, foreword by Kevin McKenzie

This book tells the stories of 16 ballet dancers, concentrating on their successful transition from being a professional dancer into another role. Of course it is not possible to discuss transition without summarising the dancer’s careers, and how they got into ballet. From that perspective it is a quick way to acess a large slice of ballet ‘history’ – all be it from a North America point of view. There is also some handy resources for anyone transitioning, or considering transitioning, out of being a profession dancer, in the appendices.

The dancers are:

All of the dancers have things in common: they trained very hard to become dancers, and when they were performing they probably trained even harder. Generally, their bodies could no longer take the physical stresses of classical technique. Some arrived in ballet indirectly – a doctor advised them to take it up, it would improve their gymnastics; for others it was what they always wanted to do. The book examines how they coped when they thing they had worked so hard for, made so many sacrifices for, had attained for a relatively short amount of time, was nolonger available to them. I found myself admiring their dancer achievements and their transition – particularly the transition. For while the training and professional life is hard – there is always a teacher or parent or role model; but the transition is often done – alone, with little support.

There were a number of instances recounted in the book that reall stuck in my mine: Nancy Raffa who was the first women to win the gold medal at the Prix de Lusanne was actually rejected by the School of American Ballet three years previously! Erin Stiefel Inch’s brother is Ethan Stiefel of Center Stage and ABT. Amanda Ose actually never became a ‘full professional’: she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet during her training, but got accepted at Stanford, and decided after much self examination turned her back on what would probably have been a dance career to go to an presdigious university.

I found the book extended my knowledge of ballet and of the human condition.

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Nutcracker Nation

July 9, 2009 at 1:23 am | Posted in Book Review | Leave a comment
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Nutcracker Nation by

Jennifer Fisher
Yale University Press,
New Haven and London

2003
ISBN 0-300-09746-8

Finally, a book review … !

June 30, 2009 by


Paper Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
Wellington
New Zealand

Nutcracker Nation – by Jennifer Fisher

This book examines how The Nutcracker came from its native Russia and took root in America. It treats the ballet as an immigrant and examines how being in america has changed it; and like many immigrants, how it changed its adopted country. It is more a work of socialogy, rather than of dance.

The book takes from the Ballet’s inception in 1892, at the Maryinski Theater, St Petersburg, under the choreography of Lev Ivanov (who stepped in for Marius Petipa). Through to George Balanchine’s productions for television, danced by the New York City Ballet, broadcast by CBS in 1957 & 1958. Through to Viji Prakesh’s bharata natyam Nutcracker and Donald Byrd’s Harlem Nutcracker.

Nation’s premise is that the Ballet has elements that easily allow an entire community involvement to become involved: there are roles for children and adults, of varying dance training, plus backstage and front-office roles. Apparently, in many towns and city the Christmas/Holiday season is ushered in by the local ballet(s) putting on their variation of The Nutcracker. And what variations there are; generally, Clara, the Mouse King, the Nutcracker/Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and (uncle) Drosselmeier – or some suitable substitute – appear. The author, herself, danced as a snowflake in Fernaud Nault’ Nutcracker in Louvisille Ballet in 1963.

Clearly, the author has done a large amount of research, including following two ballet companies: Loudoun Ballet – Leesburg, Virgina, USA – and the National Ballet of Canada – Toronto. Fisher, uses the amateur and professional companies to illustrate contrasts and similarities.

It gets a little cerebral at times, but Nutcracker Nation needs to be treated as a serious book about socialogical aspect of American life, rather than a book about a ballet or how amateur and professional ballet companies operate. I found it a little dry, and would have liked to see more of the human side of the Loudoun Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. Having said that, Fisher does give a very good summary of the evolution of The Nutcracker from its Russian origins to its current status as an America ‘citizen’, and of those who had a hand in the change. George Balanchine, a Russian emigre himself, through his willingness to stage the Ballet, and arranging it for TV, seems to have played a major role.

The book is probably a must for those with a deep interest in ballet or for whom The Nutcracker is a favourite ballet – as it goes in to the motivations behind the characters and what the characters have come to represent in America.

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