Dance review: evocative tribute to the Odissi dance in the Apsaras Arts window

To dance

Nila Madhava
Apsaras Arts
Darshana – Intimate Dance Series
Last Sunday (August 1)
Video on demand until August 15

Combining dance with storytelling, Nila Madhava paid a powerful tribute to a bygone era of medieval culture in the Odisha region of eastern India.

Careful conservation of space and shadow elements in the opening segment of the display case created an ethereal effect as light reflected off the silver jewelry and ornate headgear of dancer Kalaivani Kumaresan – two brand elements of the Odissi dance.

The artists chose an interesting focal point – the Puri Jagannath temple – for the four-part performance. Important center of social and artistic exchanges, the medieval temple of Odisha has survived to the present day.

Apsaras’ revamped filming space at the Goodman Arts Center – called Avai (congregation of like-minded people in Tamil) – completed the prowess of Kalaivani’s hour-long solo.

She took a no-frills approach with a minimal production design, instead embracing Odissi’s traditional repertoire and music through her performance.

Kalaivani’s excellent musicality was striking in the first segment, although the bhava (expressions through facial and body movement) elements of the performance seemed mellow and restrained.

The distinctive choreography of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and his son Guru Ratikant Mohapatra – oscillating movements and moments of ebb and flow accompanied by frenzy of footwork – was delivered with calculated precision in the second act.

Kalaivani was more exuberant in this portion featuring nritta (pure dance movement) and devoid of lyrical accompaniment.

While narrator Soumee De’s storytelling intervals helped tie the segments together in an engaging tapestry of history and mythology, the flow of speech hampered the momentum of the performance.

In its fourth and final segment, Kalaivani took on the character of a poet, bringing to life elaborate scenes from mythology that are rarely depicted in contemporary productions.

She has proven her courage as a playwright, skillfully portraying several characters with unique quirks.

When she portrayed a defeated man, she was hunched over with shame and disappointment; when she took on the character of a shy bride, she appeared shy and gentle.

Kalaivani is a seasoned classical artist with a unique performance style that draws on her experience in other forms of Indian dance such as kathak and bharatanatyam.

Its Odissi showcase was an ambitious venture that celebrated a dance form revived after years of colonial repression.