East Indian dancer Swati G. Bhise, a leading exponent of Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of South India, appeared in a program of the form on Nov. 2 and 3 at Lincoln Center's Clark Studio Theater. One of the most complex of all dances originated in temple sanctuaries thousands of years ago, the style follows the principles of the Natya Shastra, a treatise by Bharata Muni written about 2,000 years ago.
An "Alarippu" begins any recital of Bharatanatyam. Alarippu is the temple flower opening into blossom, used as an offering at devotional worship. Distinguishing features of the dance are the wave-like motions of head and neck, eye glances, and the lifting of the eyebrows. All of this combined with deep knee bends, rhythmic beating feet, and hand gestures immediately established the vast complexities of Bharatanatyam. All body parts are active in this form. Ms. Bhise established her mastery at what can be considered among the most difficult and poetic of dances.
Thanks to a narrator who garbled her words, we could gain no idea of what the "Silappadikaram" was all about, but it served to introduce two youngsters who had been trained in Bharatanatyam by Ms. Bhise. This in itself was an awesome experience, for it takes a lifetime to master the dances of India, yet here were the young girls (listed in the program as Sonia and Devika) performing like experienced professionals.
"Devi Stuti" is a manifestation of the Goddess Durga, who, although born from the energies of male divinities, maintains a cosmic order and is not dependent upon male energy for her existence. As the program notes, "She is the universe with all its diverse manifestations." This was a dance that saw Ms. Bhise at her varied and dramatic best.
We can easily understand why "Taye Yashoda" is one of the most popular offerings in the Bharatanatyam repertoire. It relates the complaints that a young cowherd maiden (or gopi) has gathered against young Krishna as a mischievous youngster. She tells his mother, Yashoda, that he teases the cowherds endlessly, steals their clothes while they are bathing, steals their butter, and is not above kissing them. She explains, "Thinking him to be a child, I hugged him, whereupon he kissed me on my mouth as though he were my wedded husband." When Krishna is confronted by Yashoda, he protests: "Do I know such things, Mother? It embarrasses me to even listen to them!"
With Bhise miming the three roles—cowherd, young Krishna, and Yashoda—the dancer's versatility, displayed in her lighthearted gestures, mime, and overall portrayal, are sufficient to make this a great favorite in her repertoire. She was an absolute delight.
"Padam" is a lyrical love poem that also utilizes mime. Consisting of a dialogue between a friend and Lord Krishna, she is the messenger of a shy young maiden. Said friend pleads with Krishna to return to his young lover. From the shy, passionate glances that the friend sends Krishna's way, we were convinced that she was seeking Krishna for herself. The Padam turned out to be another one of Bhise's delectable portrayals.
It is customary to conclude a Bharatanatyam program with a "Tillana," which explores all aspects of the form, creating unison between the technique and the joyous aspect of the dance. The solo ended with a devotional benediction.
Ms. Bhise incorporated into the Tillana a popular Indian "Bollywood" song, "Ghanana Ghanana" (from the film "Lagaan"), which celebrates the beauty of nature during the monsoon. The addition of social comment was welcome, since, as her program note states, "The peasant in India relies heavily on the vagaries of the monsoon and millions of farmers rely solely on the annual rainfall for their survival."
Bhise then departed the stage in a "Shloka," representing a serene mood and tranquility, which proved a most touching afterthought.
ABT's Mighty Mixture
American Ballet Theatre's closing matinee on Nov. 4 at City Center was quite a heady mixture, what with Paul Taylor's "Black Tuesday," Robert Hill's "Marimba," the "Diana & Acteon Pas de Deux" by Agrippina Vaganova, and "Amazed in Burning Dreams" by Kirk Peterson.
Although songs from the Great Depression accompany Taylor's creation, and there is abundant pathos, he also spreads his own brand of humor around to show how spirited people coped with one of the most harrowing experiences of the last century.
With "Underneath the Arches," Jerry Douglas and Eric Otto started the fun in a tumbling, lighthearted act that could have come directly from the British music hall. Erica Fischbach and Brian Reeder had themselves a ball satirizing the rich in "Slummin' on Park Avenue." A quartet consisting of Sean Stewart, Erica Cornejo, Elizabeth Gaither, and Anne Milewski spun about joyfully in "Are You Making Any Money?," and Jennifer Alexander perked and sparked in the solo "(I Went Hunting) and the Big Bad Wolf was Dead."
The wistful was well covered by Stella Abrera and Ethan Brown in "There's No Depression in Love," and by Karin Ellis-Wentz in "Sittin' on a Rubbish Can."
Taylor's most profound choreography was to be found in tragedy. First came "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," with Erica Cornejo portraying a member of the demimonde in a heartbreaking solo that left us to wonder how that tiny body of hers can contain such dramatic, dynamic intensity. The other solo that tore at the heart saw Ethan Stiefel, also a masterful dancer-actor, in "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" When, at the conclusion of his solo, he lead the group toward the audience with right arms held out begging, the scene was sufficient to leave anyone fighting tears.
Paul Taylor, basically termed a modern choreographer, is one creator who is not only cognizant of varied dance forms, but is also tremendously capable of playing with emotions. He would seem to be the most versatile choreographer on the contemporary scene today.
Where "Marimba" was concerned, somehow we were much more impressed with the music by composer Minoru Miki (called "Marimba Spiritual") than by Robert Hill's presentation to the score. The composer as marimba soloist, aided by percussionists Daniel Aviles, David Pasquarella, and Naoki Sakagami, had us spellbound.
Hill's succinct ballet does rate admiration in his instigation of some inventive pas de deux holds. And he offered young members of ABT opportunities to expand their potential. Kristi Boone, Carmen Corella, Maria Riccetto, Michele Wiles, Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, Jamar Goodman, Isaac Stappas, and Ricardo Torres all rated high praise.
A matinee without an electrifying pas de deux would really have seasoned balletomanes in a fighting mood. The "Diana & Acteon Pas de Deux," staged by Rudolf Nureyev and performed by Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreño, was bound to please the most finicky ballet fan. Both dancers possessed bravura as well as consummate artistry. Who could fail to be smitten by the electrifying pair?
"Amazed in Burning Dreams" was, like many a dream, ambiguous. Through eight different movements, the most intriguing aspect was the use of original arm structures that surfaced through the haze of a nether world. The dancers' wrists were bound in red ribbons so that the startling movements couldn't possibly be overlooked. As to why the men wore a red streak on the right side of their eyes, that's hard to fathom. I'm still attempting to figure that one out.
While the ballet has achieved some startling innovations and visions between a realistic and dream world, eventually the ballet's length was rather wearying. Here, too, however, Kirk Peterson has offered many a newcomer to ABT considerable opportunities to come to the forefront.