Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dance and Theater

Ganesh was invited, and so invited me, to see a novel Indian dance group. Among his many talents Ganesh is himself trained in traditional dancing, so many of the audience were friends and colleagues. Of course I accepted (I don’t think he finished inviting me before I said yes).

The theme of the dance sequences was more in the Twyla Tharp modern Western style. In this case, a woman is searching for her daughter and asking the elements and gods of India where she can find her. The mother runs from element to element, connecting them in a context of women’s liberation and power. While the eyes of the guys around me rolled in disdain, I found the shrill hysterical cries of “where is she?” a little too much. That said, I found the plot entertaining in its concept. The dancing was absolutely wonderful and easily overcame the defects of the script.

There were the five elements (earth, water, air, fire and ether) and a succession of the major gods of the Indian pantheon. When the elements danced the backdrop turned color to represent that element (green, blue, gold, red, black). When the one dancer who represented each of the gods danced, a beautifully painted panel in the background depicted the god’s formal, classical image.

The music was south Indian - Telugu. Quite different from the music familiar to most, with more emphasis on rhythm beaten on a drum. Almost African. Anyway, the dance was really, really good and I enjoyed it immensely.

Ganesh was also invited to a play, a light comedy by Alan Beckett, an English playwright, in part because he designed a couple of costumes for the play. This invitation I was much more ambivalent about accepting, not least because most of Beckett’s work I find way too localized to carry across cultures. I suspected it would be a boring, English middle class farce involving class differences and sexually challenged vicars. Sure enough …. And worse, it was so dated.

First performed in 1971, the script looked like it was developed in the late 1950s. I just don’t see how today’s (Indian or any other) audience could relate to it. I for sure couldn’t. The actors tried their best, but any levity was crushed by the abysmal direction. Didn’t deserve any fotos being taken – enjoy those of the dance.

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