Prachi Dance Theater
Updating the classics
by Stephanie Rieke
With a deliriously gorgeous performance by world-renowned artists the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble in April and news of a professional company devoted to Indian classicism to call our own, it's been a great year for Indian dance. "Prachi Dance Theater" is the newly minted moniker of the Ann Arbor branch of the Pittsburgh-based Srishti Dances of India. Artistic director, choreographer, and principal dancer Sreyashi Dey, who founded the group, recently moved to Michigan and has been actively building its presence through performances and educational outreach in the community.
The company's most recent Ann Arbor appearance, in March of this year, evocatively paired two Indian classical dance styles Odissi and Bharata Natyam. The expressive five-piece program began with what read as a movement prayer: slow poses in sequence and deep one-legged knee bends. Afterward, the smooth and rhythmic intricacy of Bharata Natyam's angular sidesteps gave way to pure Odissi bliss, all liquid curves and coy gestural isolations. Extensive program notes and voice-over introductions assisted those audience members for whom the stories were unfamiliar.
On Saturday, September 16, at Washtenaw Community College's Towsley Auditorium, Prachi presents two contemporary interpretations of Indian dance-dramas choreographed by Dey: Karna and Kunti, which premiered in Calcutta in 2002; and Chitrangada, from 2001. Both render episodes from one of the great Indian epics, the Mahabharata, based on the Bengali verse of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Both fuse Odissi with, this time, the Kathakali form of dance-theater. And both showcase the stylized grace of Dey and guest artist Kaushik Chakravarty, a Kathakali specialist.
If Odissi dance is celebrated for its sculptural and curvilinear poise, a codified sensuousness that traces its origins to the temple dances of Orissa in eastern India, Kathakali, from the southwestern state of Kerala, is known for its fantastic theatricality percussive productions with elaborate headdresses and makeup that go all night. Dey offers up the spirit of the traditional "total theater" experience dance, music, spoken word but
dispenses with the more ritual costuming and face painting; and in this case, the evening lasts just two hours.
Chitrangada relates the compelling story of a warrior princess of the same name, who fights to save her kingdom at the same time she longs to be accepted for who she is by her lover, Arjun. According to Dey, the work is based on "this idea of our search for our true self, and having the courage to challenge the gender-based expectations of the society." Dey's adaptation is set to music and integrates area teenagers who have trained with her.
In Karna and Kunti, Tagore's poignant libretto is translated into English dialogue by the dancer-actors throughout the piece and heightened with classical Hindustani music. The tale revolves around the meeting between an abandoned child and his birth mother.
[Review published September 2006]