Monday, October 4, 2010

Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and the Wagner experience

This past Saturday I treated myself to take in some Indian Classical Dancing by attending a performance that was part the Festival of Indian Classical Dance in SF. That evening was one of 3 performance days held at the Yerba Buena over the weekend. The 2 styles that I saw: Kathak and Bharatanatyam place heavy emphasis on stylized gesture to convey emotions and tell their story.

The Kathak piece 'Sita Haran' was a full-length saga of 3 exiles and their adventures along their path through central India. With a help of a narrator whom opened each movement/scene with a description of the circumstances surrounding the scene (in English) it was easy to grasp what was unfolding on stage as the dancers acted out the drama. The entire dance was performed by women, apparently an ironic twist as historically many such dances were performed by troupes consisting entirely of men.

The Bharatanatyam pieces were performed by a husband wife duo V.P. Dhananjayan and C.P. Shanta (their pictures above). Here I was a little lost. The dance form clearly contains a repertoire of gestures representing a set of actions/emotions. Amongst the live band (with an absolutely masterful percussion/tabla guy) was a vocalist who I assume was narrating each of the dances. Unfortunately (for me), the singing was not in English so I could not really
understand what was happening.
The experience was not unlike going to a Wagner opera before the advent of 'super titles' to narrate the goings on on stage. Beautiful singing with orchestral leitmotifs that signify certain actions, but if you can't understand German being sung, you're pretty much in dark about what in the world is going on on stage.
So while I appreciated the Dancing and Music in the abstract, I missed the stories completely due to the linguistic barrier.

All in all, the evening was an enriching experience that I would welcome again !

update: here's the SFGate Review

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