By Komal Thakkar – George Washington University
I’ll be honest, I’m a tough critic when it comes to dance. The word fusion and I have a rather strange relationship. When the words modern, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, or ballet are used in conjunction with Bollywood, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, or any other style of Indian dance, I naturally shift gears into the mindset of a dance critic. I sincerely appreciate any efforts to connect and intertwine movement vocabularies. It’s one of the most successful ways of generating innovative choreography and making cross cultural connections.
However, I do not appreciate an attempt to incorporate Bharatnatyam and ballet when both techniques have not been studied in depth. How can you truly understand the fundamentals, the history, and the artistry behind both when your only experience with Bharatnatyam comes from watching your friends’ Arangetrams or when your only training in ballet comes from Youtube videos and Black Swan?
Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve learned of two Indian dance companies in America that employ a multidisciplinary approach to their work. They particularly drew my attention because there are numerous professional dance companies dedicated purely to classical Indian dance like Kathak and Bharatnatyam in America, but I had not been exposed to Indian dance companies that borrow from other techniques and disciplines.
Founded in 1996 by Ananya Chatterjea, Ananya Dance Theatre they are based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their work is rooted in the classical dance form known as Odissi. They fuse this vocabulary with movement qualities and characteristics acquired from yoga and Indian martial-arts like Chhau. Their works possess a feminine yet strong aesthetic and bring awareness to the social issues that women of color face. Their emotional intensity coupled with the types of narratives they use to guide the progression of their work enables them to create powerful, resonant works.
Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company fuses Indian dance forms with modern dance and creates works that I find extremely relatable. They reflect the ever-changing and multi-faceted identities of second generation South Asians. Founded in 2003 and based in Washington, DC, their ability to produce inventive choreography inspires the creation of thought provoking works that blend tradition and contemporary development.
If any of you BG readers have seen them perform, feel free to share your opinions! Make sure to check their websites and the websites for nearby theaters to find out when they’ll be performing near you!