The second evening of Dakshina Dance Company’s 12th Annual Fall Festival in Washington, DC, was filled with back-to-back mesmerizing performances.
Daniel Phoenix Singh’s company began the show with their production “Tulsi: A Life in Balance”. An empowering take questioning the trials and tribulations of Tulsi, this production infuses Bharatanatyam and modern dance vocabulary to depict a less well-known tale by incorporating ideals and values of contemporary society. While the concept was powerful, the repetitive choreography and varying qualities of the dancers’ Bharatanatyam abilities detracted slightly from the execution. Taking into consideration that the Dakshina Dance Company has performers with backgrounds in varying styles of dance, it was a commendable effort by the company.
“Dwita: Duality of Life” – the feature presentation of the evening – was presented by the mother-daughter duo Rama Vaidyanathan and Dakshina Vaidyanathan. In this production, the dancers explore duality, which pervades many aspects of life. The invocatory item depicts the dualism of knowledge (represented by Goddess Saraswati) vs. wealth (represented by Goddess Lakshmi). This was a brisk opening number that set the high standard for the rest of the performance. The unique choreography weaving Saraswati and Lakshmi movements into the Sankeerna Alarippu was fascinating and challenging.
Varnam – the second piece – contrasts a heroine’s feelings of passion and devotion for Lord Shiva. Performed as a solo by Rama, this highlighted her strengths in abhinaya (expression) as she expanded upon various concepts (such as the procession of Lord Shiva) throughout the piece.
A solo piece by Dakshina, the next item (my personal favorite) focuses on creation and destruction by describing the “Ardhanari” – half female, half male – form of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Dakshina exemplified the contrasting elements of thaandavam (strength) and laasyam (grace) that characterize this two-fold nature of Shiva and Parvati.
The fourth dance was a poem exploring a mother-daughter relationship, where the mother is conflicted between protecting her daughter and setting her free. In contrast to the other pieces which are heavily devotional and Hindu-centric in nature, this item is more secular and concentrates on human nature in general. The analogies that allow a mother to set her daughter free are absolutely brilliant and resonate with international audiences very well. The ball game between mother and daughter towards the end of this piece further highlights this mother-daughter duo’s onstage chemistry. The artists concluded with a non-traditional finale summarizing the overall concept of duality by depicting the finite and infinite.
“Dwita” demonstrated duality in every sense of the word, from two dancers to two singers/nattuvanars (who took turns performing and switching each role). Rama and Dakshina are the embodiment of precision and control, and throughout the show, there were many “wow” moments that Indian dancers and musicians alike will appreciate. Rama challenges both the performers and learned audience members with her choreography by incorporating complex rhythmic patterns. Additionally, the duality of strong footwork and subtle expression came through in Rama and Dakshina’s dancing.
Due credit must also be given to the team of live musicians – Dr. S. Vasudevan and K. Venkateshwaran alternating vocal and nattuvangam (cymbals), Ramamoorthy Sriganesh on mridangam, and Rajat Prasanna on flute. The melodic harmonies in certain pieces – particularly in the Ardhanari solo by Dakshina – were simply amazing. It is evident that the musicians and dancers have all worked extremely hard to put together a production of this high caliber.
Final Verdict: If you enjoy Indian classical dance or music and “Dwita” is touring to a city near you, jump at the opportunity to check it out!