Conceived and directed by AtticRep producing director Roberto Prestigiacomo, it is the company's season finale, mounted in collaboration with choreographers Kausi Subramaniam and Seme Jatib.
The setting is a dance studio – padded mats defined by thin vertical ropes – where a company is planning to stage portions of the Mahabharata for an upcoming performance. Based on the opening warm-up exercise scenes, we see that the dancers are comfortable with both contemporary and Bharatanatyam styles. But which is the more appropriate for interpreting stories from the Mahabharata? A friendly rivalry ensues, concluding with a dance-off between sides to determine the winning approach.
June 8, 2015
From the Mahabharata: The Great Dance-Off!, which premiered June 4 at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater at the Tobin Center, is a provocative multidisciplinary piece that reflects the essence of the epic Sanskrit poem through the universal languages of dance, theatre and music.
Thus, through a series of brief readings or monologues, there are references to a handful of tales about the struggles and conflicts of such heroic figures as Draupadi, the Pandavas, Bhishma and others. The sequences are well done but appropriately unpolished, as they would be during what amounts to a behind-the-scenes view of a work in progress. The open gestures and graceful athleticism of the contemporary faction provide an intriguing contrast to the staccato footwork and tighter, more elegant movements of the Indian one.
Local music and yoga teacher Ananda
Nadayogi improvises atmospheric Indian-
style violin accompaniment to several of the
Bharatanatyam dances. Contemporary
versions are danced to piquant, sensual
original music by California-based composer
Reena Esmail and recorded by the SOLI
Chamber Ensemble. Kudos to lighting
designer Gaila Raymer and to scenic designer
Jeremiah Teutsch, whose work included two
The invigorating dance-off segment
embodies the overall theme of battle, as the
dancers emulate archery moves and physical
confrontation separately and together.
At 13,000 pages, the massive Mahabharata
dates to circa 400 BCE (with even earlier
origins) and is rightly called the longest
poem ever written. It is set in 18 parvas or books, each containing dozens of stories, not unlike the Christian Bible. Its essence is finding ways to navigate the path to enlightenment and happiness through a complex code of conduct.
Selecting which tales to include must have been a huge challenge for Mr. Prestigiacomo and his team, but the chosen ones accomplish the goal of examining the interrelationships of world cultures. To that end, this is part of the proposed International Festival of Performance.
Unfortunately, there are no program notes nor a synopsis, which means that while the ensemble is generally well-trained and agile, the specific dancers and actors in each scene are not identified. Worse, those of us with little knowledge of the poem found some of the rapid-delivery commentary confusing.
That said, it is an inspired idea and a compelling means of successfully fusing various media to enhance and experience world culture.
“From the Mahabharata: The Great Dance-Off!” runs Thursday-Sunday through June 14 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Call 999-8524.
AtticRep / From the Mahabharata
Steps to enlightenment
From the Mahabharata culminates in a dance-off between
contemporary and traditional styles.
Photos: Siggi Ragnar