Sharmila Biswas's Odissi Vision and Movement Centre
The Kennedy Center's Maximum India Festival
March 14, 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
This festival has featured the Indian classical dance of soloists more than that of groups. What soloists! Week 3, though, began with an Odissi company. Is the tradition as suited to corps dancing as to that of individuals?
The dancers of Biswas's Centre favor a mellow movement quality in rhythmic displays and in melodic pantomimes, as befits the Odissi variant of India classicism. A cushioned gait and arms that arch more than they angle are apparent signs. Also, Odissi fits the rounded body more than the streamlined shape.
Biswas's choreography for herself and six other women included solos in the context of the group work. As format, the four parts of her "Chaturanga" - an invocation, a dance response to the music, a pantomimic panel and a rhythmic kaleidoscope - were familiar. She devised decorative corps formations and also used the group to comment on dramatic solos. Compared, though, to the powerful soloists who appeared earlier in the festival, Biswas's Centre served mild tea. Nor by itself can it answer the question whether the Indian tradition is essentially not for groups but the art of the single individual dowsed in music, dancing alone and immolating herself on stage. We need to see more.
There is now an audience for more. Public response to Maximum India has been overwhelming. It should not be allowed to run out of fuel. Once a month at the Kennedy Center, why not a solo by Mudgal, Valli, Sarukkai, Shivalingappa, a chamber piece by the Ragamala group, Sapera's snake charmers and their kin?