Swarupa: Infinite Form
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
August 12, 2011
The god Shiva takes the form of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer, "whose dance represents the rhythmic moments of the entire cosmos and reveals the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth—creation and destruction."
Swarupa: Infinite Form is a presentation of the classical South Indian dance Bharatanatyam in tribute to the god Shiva. If you're interested in supporting the maintenance of this traditional practice through U.S. artists then go see Jiva Dance in FringeNYC.
Seven dances, each reflecting one of Shiva's many attributes, although stylistically similar, have different choreographers. The six dancers range in experience, making visible the exchange of craft from generation to generation.
Red paint around the fingers and toes, a vertical red line on the forehead, thick eye liner, dark vibrant shimmering costumes with gold trim, bells around the ankles, along with other ornamentation, all designed by Sonali Skandan, feel like a natural part of the time-honored ritual.
The dance style features feet stomping, eyes darting left to right, heads moving side to side, pinching thumbs to index fingers, yogic postures: all distinctly Indian. Sometimes I just watched the dancers' feet, dazzled by the complexity of their stamping rhythms.
There were climactic sections in two dances that really drew me in and made me feel instant joy. In the second dance, Chadrasekharam (His Joyous Form), excellently choreographed by Thejeswini Raj, Skandan's sharp control and stunning speed culminate in ecstasy. In the fourth dance, Bho Shambho (His Infinite Form), trio Poulomi Das, Njideka Avesta Emenogu, and Judy Kuriakose, in a particular series of moves were masterfully aligned. Emenogu has especially noteworthy focus, grace, and a clear sense of communication, in every dance she is involved in. Skandan's choreography here has a follow-through of motion that is somehow natural yet tense with the pull of mystery. I'd say there I got a small taste of Shiva.
There were moments when some of the dancers had that trickster charm, but others were visibly nervous. Although dances were consistently well executed, the delivery of its content was sporadic, so I often did not feel as affected as during those more dynamic portions.
Watching Umesh Venkatesan in the duet Shankara Roudra (His Destructive Form), it was almost as though he was clowning. He was playing a mortal while his partner played a god, and his style was delightfully theatrical, but in a duet with the more formal Skandan, the approaches did not mesh.
One solo dance choreographed by Bragha Bessell was more of a mimed story, with Skandan on stage relating silently to an invisible other, that I found quite difficult to follow.
Representing the dance of all life (and death, and beyond) is a Herculean, (or Arjunian?) endeavor. That it is in fact our daily dance, we can maybe see from a more cosmic perspective, but I know I need a reminder through some medium. Striving to bring forth the infinite in a moment, Swarupa is part of a long tradition of Bharatanatyam; a possible medium.