Amrita Lahiri is undoubtedly a charismatic dancer with a unique talent in dance, a sharp eye for intricate hand gestures (mudras) and an appetite for the theatrical context (abhinaya). In Nritya Tarang – Spirit of Kuchipudi Dance, Lahiri presents a sequence of different dance pieces throughout the evening. All are performed exquisitely with a mesmerising music contribution from Vasudha Ravi, (vocals), Lakshmi Krishnan, (nattuvangam), V M Sai Akileshwar, (mridangam) and Srividya Sriram (violin).
Live music and dance come together seamlessly. There seems to be a constant exchange between musicians and performer on stage, one feeds the other, but remarkably the music never underscores the dance. Instead, it is as vital in this performance as the choreography. From the beginning, we see Lahiri in saffron tones, covered in bright jewelry and a long decorated plat (down to her knees) dancing with perfect joy. She smiles throughout the piece, and in her eyes, we can read the direction of the movement as it shifts from happy to sad and sometimes disappointment. Lahiri devises her choreographic work from poetry, and a translation of the original script is occasionally projected on the backdrop allowing the audience to engage with the action longer. Sometimes, I didn’t feel the need to ‘understand’ what she was dancing, because clarity was paramount in this performance, at times the dance morphed into a genre of mute theatre that eventually offered a detailed read on the pieces.
‘The moon taunts me as it crosses the sky, it’s untroubled lights seem repulsive’, was projected above Lahiry as she frowns her face in despair, shuffling backward on a diagonal, extending the arms to the right and left with incredible force and agility. Lahiry is so connected to the music and the poetry that sometimes I wonder if the music actually comes from her body, and not from the fantastic group of musicians on the side of the stage. This performance comes with a standing ovation, the audience cheers with loud, long applause.
Not too often do I get to see a collaborative work of dance and music come together so nicely, but again, the shape of collaboration in the 21st century is still a relatively young concept. But, classical Indian dance, and in this case Kuchipudi only reaffirm that traditional dancing comes with centuries of practice and what I notice on stage is a perfectly balanced performance of dance and live music.
Contemporary dance practice might benefit from looking into Classical Indian dance, not for the aesthetics, but for the practice itself.