Malathi Iyengar is an Indian professional dancer who is studying choreography and performance at UCLA. Her master's thesis concert over the weekend in Theater 200 of the Dance Building on campus therefore drew uncommon critical interest. But whatever the academic value of the program was, the concert, seen Friday, came up short in dance terms.
Iyengar appeared in only three short sections of her works--"Narasimha" (Man-Lion), a dance drama; and "Creation Myth," a cross-cultural melange. Trained in the Pandanallur style of Bharata Natyam, Iyengar emphasized weight at the expense of speed, and arms and hands at the expense of torso tension and involvement. It was a more viscous movement style than we are used to seeing in this southern Indian dance idiom, and lacked impact.
The rest of the dancers--students, faculty, guests and even family--varied widely in mastery of technique. In "Narasimha," Prasanna Kasthuri danced the demon Hiranyakashipu with comic and kinetic flair, if not much evil. As Vishnu, Sunarno Purwolelono had trouble in sustaining early balances, but proved more impressive in the god's later transformation into an avenging lion.
Prahalada, Hiranyakashipu's devout son, was danced by Iyengar's 13-year-old daughter, Lakshmi.
In "Creation Myth," a philosophic and religious idea-driven piece that verged on kitsch, Ron Burton made a virtuosic cosmic or natural force, whatever it was intended to be. Ron Brown was a lyric and warm male emanation from the primordial godhead. (Iyengar was the female emanation.) Shiva Rae Bailey was superb in the difficult yoga postures that attempted to tie the diffuse work together.
Jahnavi Jayaprakash composed the music for "Narasimha"; Rajkumar Bharathi and David Karagianis wrote the score for "Creation Myth." Both scores were taped.