Joyce SoHo Theatre in New York City (April 3-5, 2009) hosted Hari Krishnan’s (Artistic Director) Toronto-based InDance Company’s 10th anniversary Program titled Box. Krishnan’s contemporary sensibility combines ‘vintage bharatanatyam’ as he calls it, and ‘contemporary abstractions of bharatanatyam’ along with modern dance in insightful plays with cultural and gender stereotypes. Multi-ethnic dancers with impeccable technique were a pleasure to watch along with breathtakingly inventive costumes by the company’s brilliant designer Rex.
Krishnan’s signature style is hybrid in movement, eclectic music, creative use of space and lighting. Although hybridity is a common characteristic of Contemporary Indian Dance, Krishnan’s work brings new energy into this concept.
The evening began not with Krishnan’s subversive comments on contemporary bharatanatyam in the title piece Box, but with Inverse’s provocative inversions. Virtuosic movers, Beth Despres and Hiroshi Miyamoto effectively disrupted bharatanatyam’s symmetrical lines—neck, not erect but bent sideways, arms held in soft arcs, balletic leaps flowing in quick succession from bharatanatyam lunges.
Box presented two dancers moving strictly inside two stage-lit boxes side by side-Julie Neuspiel, a Caucasian in a traditional bharatanatyam saree, though untraditionally black, and Nalin Bisnath, a South Asian in black trousers and black top. Krishnan sat on stage left in a western suit reciting solkettus with cymbals; on stage right, sat mrindangist Aaron Paige in traditional veshti/kurta. A continuous four-minute jati gave no pause to dancers (or audience) as if trapping them inside boxes imitating today’s lengthy jatis and tirmanans in bharatanatyam that exhaust dancers and viewers! Box ended stunningly as each dancer jumped across to the other box; in mid-air lights went to black. A similar finale closed the lightly satirical piece Mea Culpa (inspired by Ted Shawn’s 1926 photograph posing as Nataraj)—when Joshua Green, fantastic ballet/modern dancer in fishnet tights (subtly gender-bending!) danced to Rossini’s jaunty music, and from a deliberately shaky Nataraj pose collapsed on the floor.
Owning Shadows, a deeply emotional piece, based on The Ramayana where the demoness Shurpanakha desires Rama, evoked universal resonances about the dark side of lust and greed in human nature. Krishnan creatively used solkettus for abhinaya, not rhythm. In one beautiful segment, Emily Watts and Hiroshi Miyamoto, strong yet soulful dancers moved back to back diagonally across the stage as their facial gestures and hand mudras expressed humanity’s loving and dark sides.
The evening ended with Bollywood Hopscotch, InDance’s signature piece performed over fifty times, whimsically parodying Bollywood’s melodramatic acting, and today’s speed-driven bharatanatyam. Both styles flow and rupture across nine multicolored ‘hopscotch’ squares unlike fixed borders in Box. Bollywood film clips with Asihwarya, Helen, Amitabh and Tamil film hero M.G. Ramachandran projected in the background added to the piece’s humour.
InDance’s work of the highest professionalism in movement and staging exceeded expectations. The shows, sold-out on all three nights, were very well received by audiences and media. Krishnan’s vision of challenging stereotypes of movement, nation, and gender takes contemporary Indian dance in exciting directions. InDance enthralled and edified audiences to see outside the box.