Dance review: ‘Traditions Engaged’ Festival of Classical Indian Dance and Music at REDCAT


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Indian dance is too diverse to categorize easily, as shown by the three-day “Traditions Engaged” festival of classical Indian dance and music over the weekend at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. Yet there are recurring themes and aims. Performances are not simply entertainment; they are more like acts of devotion, the dancers and musicians submitting themselves to higher powers and inviting similar alignments from the observers.

The easiest, most irresistible invitations come from the tales of Hanuman, the monkey god in the “Ramayana,” whose devotion to Lord Rama is perfect and joyous. We love Hanuman, we love his devotion, we love Rama. That is the Platonic ladder up which Odissi master Ratikant Mohaptra led us in the opening program on Friday.


Charged with taking a ring to Rama’s abducted beloved, Sita, Hanuman jumps across the ocean, fumblingly completes his task, scratches his side now and then to remind us of his simian nature, and returns for further instructions. Mohaptra danced the story with the seamless fluidity between storytelling and pure dance typical of the subcontinent’s art forms.

Also typical was the opening invocation and consecration of the stage by members of the San Francisco-based Chitresh Das Dance Company, the festival’s sponsoring organization. But almost all the dancers performed similar acts before turning to stories of gods and goddesses.

In what was billed as the U.S. premiere of a Bengali dance form called Gauriya Nritya, Mahua Mukherjee depicted the 10 forms of the goddess Devi Durga, signaling transitions with short balances on an inverted bowl. The second part of the dance traced human evolution through a Darwinian progression, culminating, however, in the arrival of the Buddha and the banishment of violence and evil. Accomplishment in these and other styles is a lifelong effort, so it was not surprising that mature dancers dominated the stage. In dances depicting Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, Darshana Jhaveri, for instance, splendidly embodied the demure, elegant feminine principle in Manipuri, a graceful dance form not often seen in the Southland. L. Anasuya Devi enacted the more vigorous male principle.

Manipuri drummer Jagannath Lairenjam also performed a virtuosic solo, dancing and drumming at the same time, maintaining inner poise, always eschewing personal display.

In fireworks display passages, Kathak dancers Bachanlal Mishra and his daughter Kasturi Mishra bridged the generations, trading off in a series of increasingly complex rhythmic sequences.

Other groups were scheduled to appear Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.


—Chris Pasles