Mandala Arts Presents UNWINDING Review - Deconstructing Tradition
The regal architecture of the old Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue with its velvet seats and delicately carved bas-relief balconies was the perfect setting for Pranita Nayar’s Unwinding. Developed over the past year through a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist award, Unwinding sought to deconstruct elements and gestures within traditional Bharatanatyam technique and through that deconstruction create a modern dance.
Mandala Arts Gives a Showcase of Both Classical Indian Dance and Modern Dance
Most movement and gesture within classical Indian dance has its own specific meaning and narrative while modern dance can often be approached from a very personal vantage point giving the audience agency in how they might interpret a piece. Unwinding gave the viewer the opportunity to do both, to create their own narrative through line, and through the deft assembling of the choreography begin to understand some of the basic meaning behind certain movements and gestures.
The piece was presented in three acts: Avatars—creation, preservation and destruction, Water Lilies and Goddesses—growing from murky waters in the divine mother, and Genealogy—tracing our family, history and lines of Bharatanatyam.
Unwinding in Three Acts
The first act opened with a bright blue cyclorama and six women in blue and gold tunics rolling onto the stage, limbs intertwining in and through as they rolled past one another. The rolling dancers seamlessly moved from the floor work into lines and circles and back down to the floor. The patterning and use of space, emblematic of much modern dance work, was presented alongside circling wrists, traditional Bharatanatyam head and eye movements, and movements representing various animals. The subtle interweaving of genres gave us permission to watch the choreography as one might view an abstract painting wherein references and movements indicative of Bharatanatyam were interwoven throughout a more personal visual narrative.
The second act opened with a pink cyclorama and the dancers sitting center stage in a circle on the floor. As they began to move, their circling hands and wrists were taken up by legs and ankles. It was as if Nayar took traditional Bharatanatyam movements and allowed them to travel throughout the body into the legs and feet and torso. It was exciting to watch the unraveling of a gesture so imbued with tradition remain both itself, but also become something more as its was filtered through the process of creating an abstract dance work. At one point the dancers moved forward supporting each other as one unified grouping while slowly becoming a Hindi goddess. Creating smooth subtle relationships, the performers came together in such a way that it was not until the last tableau that the well-known goddess figure was recognizable. In the final moments of the second act the dancers moved forward toward the lip of the stage in a seated posture each delicately creating shapes and lines using the arms and hands. After the performance Nayar explained that the entire section’s choreography was based on one specific hand gesture.
The third and final act had the most recognizable Bharatanatyam movement, yet it was choreographed and presented to highlight the beauty of the gesture rather than a particular narrative. The curtain opened on a large square sculpture reminiscent of a Robert Rauschenberg set piece that might have been part of a Merce Cunnigham dance. As the dance unfolded it became clear the set was made up of Indian fabrics sewn together in horizontal and vertical patterns. From behind this soft sculptural wall heads and hands emerged in multiple places and at various levels to create one abstract body executing traditional Bharatanatyam movements. The striking visual isolated movements and gestures so that they were respectfully separated from tradition in order to give the viewer a chance to see the purity of the movement itself. Once again the deconstruction of the traditional, and the modern presentation, gave the audience an exciting new viewing lens and showcased a truly fresh way of looking at classical Indian dance.
Mandala Arts presents ongoing performances throughout the year. For more information visit the Mandala Arts Website.
All photos by John Guttierez
Read more stories by Michelle Kranicke and other choreographers and dancers in our ongoing series - Choreographers' Eyes: Dancers Explain Dance