New York, NY
June 27, 2012
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
Not every solo performer can fill a bare stage for an hour, but Shantala Shivalingappa is one of them. “Namasya,” meaning homage or reverence, is a program of four works created in appreciation of her teachers. Shivalingappa invited the audience into a gentle world of images, melding her Kuchipudi Indian dance training with her Western training in Paris. Although her personal magnetism and elegance were mesmerizing, the program didn’t do justice to Shivalingappa’s gifts.
Shivalingappa is physically stunning (those gorgeous eyes, the flow of her dark hair, her elongated arms and elegant body,) and the combination of Western movement and Indian detail is visually rich. Through all four works, Shivalingappa’s dancing was relaxed and sly, crisp and soft in turn. The edges of the movement were Kuchipudi, flawless and clear – perfect curled fingers and toes, sharply angled movements of wrists and ankles, a tilt and shift of neck muscles creating a light head bobble.
The strongest piece was the first, “Ibuki,” by Amagatsu. A spotlight rose on a supine Shivalingappa wearing a loose white costume that evoked the white face and costumes of Amagatsu’s Butoh-influenced troupe, Sankai Juku. In slow, fluid movement, she slid across the stage, her long arms rising and falling as if calming the air; a small square kite overhead was lit as if a brief partner to her movement through the air.
In the Pina Bausch “Solo,” Shivalingappa’s costume was a long black dress with bare shoulders. The flick of the dress (some moments almost Martha Graham-like in “Letter to the World,”) and the swishing flick of the dancer’s long black hair exploded in motion. The jazzy guitar and drum score matched the crisp rotations of her arms, and, always, the magic of the dancing fingers of Kuchipudi.
Shivalingappa’s buoyancy was able to make pedestrian steps riveting. When her feet left the stage in simple jumps or light leaps in “Ibuki,” she seemed weightless. She also created lightness through stillness and control. In “Smarana,” a solo choreographed by her mother, Indian dancer Savitry Nair (the only piece that was danced to classical Indian music,) Shivalingappa sat in a small pool of light. She scarcely moved outside of a 3’ by 3’ space. Facing away from the audience, the dancer used her flexible back, legs in soft long lunges, and the stretch of her arms and fingers to feather the stage with movement.
Two film clips, projected on a large screen between solos, were the closest the audience came to seeing Shivalingappa in full traditional Kuchipudi dance and costume (glorious scarlet and purple skirts.) Even this sighting was artfully distorted, the dancing seen through mirrors and pools of water and light that shimmered with color and only occasionally paused for a moment of clear visual detail. It was a reminder of what we were missing, more a tease than an offering.
It’s hard to complain about dancing this elegant and beautifully rendered. But with neither the ballast of the Kuchipudi discipline nor a high level of intellectual rigor from of the contemporary dance tutors she honored, the result was less than satisfying. Shivalingappa is worth seeing again, hopefully in a fuller offering of her remarkable talent, tradition, and beauty. This performance was a lovely appetizer, not a meal.
copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
Top: Shantala Shivalingappa in “Ibuki,” by Nicolas Boudier
Bottom: Shantala Shivalingappa in “Solo,” by Laurent Philippe