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Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company

'Kavauthavum,' 'Fire Cracker,' 'Undoing Measures,' 'Tillana' and 'Dreams'

by Cheryl Adams

May 10, 2009 -- Dance Place, London

Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company gifted a sold-out audience with its unique repertoire of Bharata Natyam, modern, and a fusion of both at Dance Place on May 10, 2009.  In a relatively short time, Singh has built a reputation as an important emerging artist garnering awards and grants, including funding for a future tour of India and a recent National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) grant for further study of works by modern dance groundbreaker, Anna Sokolow.

The program opened with “Kavauthavum,” an invocatory Bharata Natyam in which the dancers seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and the audience as they begin the performance. With music and choreography by Chitra Visweswaran, the seven dancers in colorful native costumes moved with joyful precision drawing the audience into the space.  Both the spiritual and playful sense of the work was conveyed through their demonstrative faces and facile movement.  Shiva represents a dichotomy, and the dancers surely drew his pleasure for the work to come -- both light and profound.

“Fire Cracker,” performed by Celeste Watts, was excerpted from a longer work choreographed by Hari Krishnan.  Watts, her back to the audience, was bathed in a shimmery light at the opening of the piece, her willowy form almost surreal in the glow.  Much of the piece was danced upstage, in some ways distant from the audience.  Modern and classical Indian movements merged, and Watts deftly moved between genres.  Some of the piece seemed self-indulgent:  what role does the audience play when the performer seems so detached?  What I missed here, primarily, was the facial communication with the audience, which was so vital in the first work.

Darla Stanley’s “Undoing Measures,” set to haunting music by Toby Twining, presented five dancers in what appeared to be a study of consciousness.  Two women, one covered in red pants and top, one in gray, opened as the woman in gray seemed to unzip the woman in red—releasing her inner self.  These two women vanished from the stage as the three remaining dancers, one in a red dress, two in gray, began their trio.  The piece progressed through another entrance by the two original performers, switching releasing roles, then to the company of five weaving in and out of isolation and tenuous relationships.  Most successful and poignant to me was the shaping of the movements -- the dancers enveloped their individual worlds and encompassed the others with similar shaping.  Doris Humphrey once said, “all dances are too long.”  This held true for me in this work as I felt the culmination was too long in the coming.

“Tillana,” an abstract Bharata Natyam dance adapted from a solo and staged for a group by Singh, made me smile out loud.  The seven dancers exuded such joy and playfulness that I could not help but lean forward in my seat trying to get closer to the exuberant energy.  The dancers were radiant, and their elated facial expressions mixed with teasing eyes transported the audience into a state of euphoria.  This performance was triumphant in fulfilling one of Dakshina’s goals, to “experience dance as a system of communication, one that transcends boundaries, cultures, and time.”

For the concert’s finale, the company presented one of Anna Sokolow’s seminal works, “Dreams.”  “Dreams” was created as a “visual expression of Ms. Sokolow’s outrage at the Holocaust.”  This expressive outrage was aptly portrayed by the company as they moved through  a world of isolation, pain, compassion, frustration, tenderness, desperation and terror.  Especially evocative were the sections danced by Daniel Phoenix Singh, whose rendering of counter-tension clearly defined the work’s themes.  The final section of the piece with the company in Sokolow’s unison movement of bent bodies, running in place, heads bobbing with manic futility, permeated the entire space with a hush of astonishment and admonition -- and a caution to lead us to change or perish.  In the words of Primo Levi in Survival in Auschwitz,

They crowd my memory with their faceless presences, and if I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man, with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen. If the drowned have no story, and single and broad is the path to perdition, the paths to salvation are many, difficult and improbable."


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