30th Annual Downtown Dance Festival
Wednesday, I attended the Erasing Borders: Festival of Indian Dance which was in collaboration with Battery Dance Company’s 30th Annual Downtown Dance Festival. It was a perfect day, warm, sunny, and dry, and the backdrop to this amazing stage at One New York Plaza was a picturesque New York scene: the financial district's tall skyscrapers, buses, trucks, taxis, and cars whizzing by, and the clearest blue sky peaking through the skyline crevices. The buzzing energy of the modern city was a complete juxtaposition from the traditional, classical and colorful performances that were going on in its foreground. Indian performers were featured from all over the US, and one dancer even came in from India for the festival. Sponsored in part by The Indo-American Arts Council, a phenomenal group that always presents the top talent showcasing the Indian culture, the Erasing Borders performance was a real New York summer experience.
Lakshmi Sriraman of Lexington, KY and Aniruddhan Vasudevan of India danced an intricate and delicately synchronized Bharatanatyam piece that was light hearted and jovial. The smile on Aniruddhan’s face was infectious, and the beauty and seemingly simple movements are in actuality much more complicated once attempted by a non-professional. Each and every body part, including the last tiny finger, facial expression, and look of the eye, are all accounted for and aligned together. You can see that the two of these dancers work very closely together, the rhythms and movements in the choreography are very punctuated and sharp. In another piece that the duet performed later, a much more contemporary number, the two used scarves to represent “love and conflict in interpersonal relationships, the many veils and many masks we wear.” Also, the scarves then became intertwined and the dancers were connected, pulling forces like a tug-o-war between the two, showing anger, frustration, and impatience. In the end, the couple was then peacefully reunited – overall a very jarring piece with the use of silence, Indian music, and vocal screams.
Manipuri, the traditional ritual dances from the northeastern hills of Manipur, India are very different in style, music, and costume than the more well known Bharatanatyam classical Indian style. Natya Academy of North Carolina performed two wonderful pieces, both to be done traditionally in the temples to revere the god Krishna. The colorful costumes are what first catch your attention, and the Manipuri duet was a performance of turning, whirling, swaying and hopping. The dancers were light on their feet in this gregarious dance of lord Krishna dancing with his devout cowherd maiden, Radha.
The second piece, what looked like to be the more traditional piece done in the temples, began with a procession through the audience, led by a dancer playing the Pung Cholam drum, a double-sided drum that is played with your hands as it hangs across the front of the body. The ladies following the drummer with mini cymbals and bright, thickly braided yarn, eased the audience members to a peaceful state. Once arriving on stage, the women’s position was frozen like statues in a temple while the Pung Cholam drummer created his rhythm & own melody as he was whirling, jumping and dancing. Extremely peaceful and meditative, thank you Natya Academy dancers!
And the grand finale performance was done by Rukmini Vijayakumar - a 12-minute Bharatanatyam piece that was completely enthralling. Not once was the audience bored, and her talent in story-telling, in dance, and her overwhelming beauty (she looks as though she could be Aishwarya Rai’s sister!) was mezmorizing. The dance started with a very dramatic “awakening” of Rukmini, and continued with highs and lows of the piece, happiness, sadness, fear, love. It was absolutely beautiful, and I only took a snippet of film so that I could enjoy the rest of the piece the way it was supposed to be seen.
After such a moving performance, Rukmini, Lakshmi, & Aniruddhan gave a mini-Bharatanatyam lesson to audience members on stage - we quickly learned how to perform two short stories in the classical Indian tradition; I was truly inspired and would love to take some actual classes in the city!
Battery Dance Company’s 30th Annual Downtown Dance Festival continues today through the weekend, be sure to check their online schedule. 1 New York Plaza (by Battery Park), 12pm-2pm, open seating so get their early!