When one thinks of classical dance, visions of nutcrackers and prima ballerinas in pretty, puffy pink tutus dance across the mind. Or, perhaps the image of Mikhail Baryshnikov twirling his manly yet delicate body around a stage. However, the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble’s April 3 performance of Pratima: Reflection introduced a crowded Campbell Hall to an entirely different definition of classical dance.
This ensemble, originally from the Nrityagram village in India and founded by Protima Gauri, eats, breathes and sleeps classical dance. The entire company, including the dancers, musicians and choreographers, live together while honing their talents. This sense of unity is apparent throughout their entire performance in which the women dancers all wear the same costumes and flow coherently together, while accompanied by a five-piece live band.
Each dancer wore breathtaking silk pants and wraps that soared along with the dancers’ movements. The sense of unity was also emphasized in the fact that no dancer appears to be strikingly different than the rest. The costumes represented both womanliness and functionality, paralleling how the dancers represented femininity and strength through their dancing. When it comes to the actual dance skills, performers twist, jump and turn in complete synchronization, highlighting the hours of dedication they commit to strengthening their art form.
The dancers practice not only classical dance, but yoga, martial arts and meditation as well. This intense study load pays off well in that the actual dancing is performed with a seamless ease. The coy smirks on the performers’ faces give a look of “I make this look easy.” The manipulation of each body is flawless, complete with the dancers’ capacities to intertwine their bodies together with grace. The agile leg movements flowed effortlessly from the dancers’ bodies. Musically, the way the bells on their costumes and the rhythm of their feet stomping combines with their dancing to present not only a dancer but a musician as well. The sarcastic smiles and exaggerated facial expressions each dancer has on her face throughout make her an actor in addition to a dancer and musician.
Two pieces in particular, Chhaya and Khandita, represent the spiritual and physical elements that create this performance. In Chhaya, or image, the dancers incorporate mirrored movements of each other with graceful squats that show off the immense training each has endured. The ability of the women to give the illusion that their heads move separately from their bodies in addition to the swift arm movements and the astounding footwork is what distinguishes them from the rest. Each dancer has her own personality, yet, when they dance collectively, they appear to be one person.
Khandita, meaning love betrayed, derives from the poem Geet Govind about the love of the deity Radha-Krishna. In this solo Surupa Sen, the company’s artistic director and choreographer combine the mechanisms of classical dance with embellished body movements to convey the complicated love story to the audience. Her power to dance as if reacting to another person present on stage adds a dramatic storyline to the performance.
The setting of a black backdrop on the stage highlighted the dancers’ beautiful costumes and skill. The dancers and live musicians together gave the effect of a street dance, as if the performers were performing for fun and enjoyment instead of a stage performance. The live musicians complete with vocals were just as impressive as the dancers. They set the tempo of the dancers that demonstrated a final product obviously requiring fine-tuning to achieve. Overall, this was a performance of not only grace and beauty but a demonstration of strength, dedication and a love of dance. It may not have been classical dance in the strictest, Western sense of the word, but it was an enchanting evening, nonetheless.