Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Odissi: An Evening of Temple Dance, Friday, Sept 23, Anamika-Navatman, New York City

Rehearsals are in full swing for my upcoming performance on Friday, September 23, 7 pm - 8:30 pm, titled "Odissi: An Evening of Temple Dance". Mala Desai (a senior disciple of Guru Mayadhar Raut) and I will present Odissi choreographies from our traditional repertoire representing our respective gharanas of Guru Mayadhar Raut and Late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. The program will feature new collaborative work titled Mokshadayini Satta dedicated to Goddess Durga on the advent of Navaratri which is in two weeks' time. Exciting times! Do come if you happen to be reading this, and are in the NYC vicinity on Friday, September 23. 

For more information regarding tickets, visit:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sutra Dance Theater, Downtown Dance Festival, Dance New Amsterdam, NYC

It was a real treat to watch Sutra Dance Theater, a Malaysian contemporary dance troupe led by Guru Ramli Ibrahim, perform at the Downtown Dance Festival Finale. The group is renowned for its spellbinding choreography, and draws inspiration from Odissi. Rathimalar Govindarajoo, the lead dancer, was impressive, and received a glorious review by Alastair Macaulay in the New York Times. Click to read the article!

I observed some of the ideas (such as eroticism) being incorporated in the choreographies, which Guru Ramli Ibrahim had also explored with the participants at his three-day workshop in NYC last week organized by the Battery Dance Company. I was lucky to have been a part of this productive and inspirational workshop, and the opportunity to study under a great artiste such as Guru Ramli Ji.   

Friday, August 19, 2011

Workshop with Guru Ramli Ibrahim

I recently attended a three day workshop with the award winning dancer-choreographer - Guru Ramli Brahim - who made Odissi popular in Malaysia. What a treat to be able to learn from such a celebrated artist while he was on tour in the US. Thanks to IAAC for organizing this on such short notice. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Swarupa: Infinite Form

Part of the Fringe NYC Festival this year, Swarupa: Infinite Form by Sonali Skandan and Jiva Dance was an absolute delight. The program took the audience on a journey in search of Shiva - the cosmic dancer. Through the poetic movement and storytelling of the Indian Classical Dance form of Bharatanatyam, we encountered the dynamic forms of Shiva - from his dance of bliss to his dance of anger and destruction - to the love, longing, desire, and devotion felt by all those who seek him.

Sonali Skandan and Jiva Dance presented a suite of solos, duets and dynamic group pieces that spoke of the all-mighty dance of Shiva and the fear, joy and love that he manifests through his dance. Original and classical items choreographed and restaged by Sonali Skandan were presented highlighting the salient features of Bharatanatyam - geometric formations, rhythmic variations and dramatic interactions. The result is a richly evocative and soulful experience of classical music and dance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Introducing Odissi Classes at Anamika-Navatman, Manhattan, New York

Come September 2011, I will be teaching Odissi, at Anamika-Navatman. I also hold private and group lessons at various locations in Manhattan, Westchester and Stamford. For more information, and an up to date schedule of classes and locations, visit www.priyadarshini.net or www.shibaranjani.org 

For registration details, email at priyadarshini.roy@gmail.com or info@shibaranjani.org call +1 917 287 7533. 

The class description is as follows.


Students will learn the fundamental principles of Odissi in the style of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, including the basic steps in the two distinctive positions – Chauka (the square stance) and Tribhangi (the three-bend stance). These will be woven together with traditional hand gestures, walks, turns, neck, eye and head movements in a simple choreography – Sthayi (traditional pure dance sequence) – to create an enjoyable practice for young beginners with the aim of exposing them to the experience of performance and ensemble work. Students will also learn to chant the basic eight beat bols, and learn about the history of Odissi. 

Beginner II 

The Chauka and Tribhangi steps set to eight to ten beat cycles will be introduced and added to the Sthayi choreography. Torso movement will be taught at this stage for each of the ten basic Chauka and Tribhangi steps. Students will also learn the choreography for a Vandana (hymn) as an introduction to Mangalacharan, the traditional invocatory piece which forms part of the Odissi repertoire. 


Mangalacharan's rhythmic sequence of steps forming the Bhumi Pranam (salutation to Mother Earth) and Trikhandi Pranam (three-fold salutation to God, the Guru, and the audience) will be completed. This class will focus on learning the basic items of the Odissi repertoire – Batu Nritya and Pallavi (pure dance sequences), and Moksha (the dance of salvation which concludes a performance).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ta Ka Di Mi: Exploring South Asian Dance, August 13-14, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, NYC

India has over eight classical dance styles and hundreds of folk styles which have made an impact on the world of dance. This two-day intensive presented by the Ailey Extension, The Anamika-Navatman Project, and The Sa Dance Company, will engage the dancer in a myriad of movements ranging from the rich techniques of Indian classical styles to the festive and energetic nature of folk and Bollywood. The intensive will include eight introductory level classes taught by master teachers from around the world such as Maya Kulkarni, Sridhar Shanmugam, Uttara Coorlawala, Pooja Narang, Sarina Jain, Malini Srinivasan, Pratibha Vuppuluri and me. Students will gain insight into the beauties and intricacies of South Asian dance and music through instructors who have shown to be inspirational teachers within their field.

Register soon for the full workshop, or classes of your choice, at the Alvin Ailey webpage

Here's the schedule for the two days:

Day 1: Saturday, August 13

10:00 am - 11:30 am - Rhythmic Instrumental Class with Murali Balachandran
Active participation with the drums (such as mridangam, kanjira, etc) allow the dancer to learn the fundamentals of the rhythms of Indian dance. The teacher will go over what kannokol (spoken syllables used to create rhythms) means and also explain how it can be played on the instrument, cumulating in an understanding of how the spoken word is used to create complicated rhythmic patterns of pure dance.
11:45 am - 1:15 pm - Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Odissi with Malini Srinivasan, Pratibha Vuppuluri, and Priyadarshini Roy
These three styles exemplify some of the basic elements found in the greater percentage of Indian classical dance forms: a concentration on geometric lines, a half sit (in a pliƩ style) and the strong use of mudras (hand gestures). Each style has its own beauty in the way they approach these elements, especially through its utilization of the torso, allowing students to begin to understand stylistic differences and similarities.
1:15 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch Break
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm - Free-style Folk Garba, Raas and Bhangra with Payal Kadakia and Sarina Jain
India is a land of diverse cultures, languages, and even movement.. Every region of the country has a unique culture, of which there is a popular style of folk dance derived from the essence of their traditions. For example, bhangra, a Punjabi folk dance, was derived from farmers celebrating the coming of the harvest, and the movements within base themselves on how the villagers farmed their lands. Half of this class will be devoted to Garba & Raas, two popular forms of Gujrati folk dance always found at the Indian festival of Navaratri; and bhangra, which has made its way from the fields to dance halls and clubs. This class is perfect for those intending to learn the basics to take to your next Indian-themed dance event or this upcoming season of Navratri!
3:15 pm - 4:45pm - Contemporary Blend with Uttara Coorlawala
Inspired about 80 years ago, this is a course that allows you to explore ways to blend the grounded nature of Indian dance with the light airiness of modern styles. There are several ways to approach this combination of movements, and several more questions that arise about the meaning and purpose while doing so. The teacher will attempt to address as much about this new and emerging field as possible through her own vast experiences and what she has come across in the past 50 years.
Day 2: Sunday, August 14
10:00 am - 11:30 am - Kalari Payattu with Sridhar Shanmugam
This dance is a martial arts dance form from Kerala, and is one of the oldest fighting systems in existence. Much like the arts of fencing, capoeira, or Jiu-Jitsu, it involves preset forms of strikes, kicks, grappling, weaponry, and even healing methods. It is even recognized by some as the precursor to martial arts in the East.
11:45 am - 1:15 pm - Kathak with Parul Shah
This North Indian style of dance is signified by multiple spins, fast foot work, a standing stance and graceful movement of the arms and elbows. Kathak as we know it now is a mixture of Indian and Mughal influences from the 16th century, which is why it is one of the only classical dances that has a standing stance. Originally danced in king’s courts, it slowly made its way North where it became the precursor to flamenco.
1:15 pm - 1:45 pm - Lunch Break
1:45 pm - 3:15 pm - Abhinaya with Maya Kulkarni (Chadda)
An important component of all Indian dances is the facial expression and the storytelling component. In this class, the teacher will teach students how one goes about formulating stories with the use of their hands and the nine rasas (basic moods). She will also give a small introduction to rasa theory (the reason d'etre for Indian dance) and how to "involve" oneself in a dance and fully become a character (useful for any kind of performance style).
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm - Bollywood with Pooja Narang
This dance sensation has hit the US full force, with its open parameters of movement. Bollywood dance is the dance-form used in Indian films. It is a mixture of numerous styles including belly-dancing, Kathak, Indian folk, Western pop, Modern, Jazz, and Hip-hop. It is a fun, fast-paced entertaining dance form.
Finally, here's a video of an Indian-inspired piece by Robert Battle, Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

The complex, tightly woven rhythms of Indian dance are deconstructed and abstracted in this percussive, fast-paced work by choreographer Robert Battle. Clear shapes and propulsive jumps mimic the vocalized rhythmic syllables of Sheila Chandra's jazzy score.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Performing the Border, at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, NYC, co-presented by the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC)

Performing the Border was an evening of dance built on the grammar of two Indian classical dance forms, Bharatnatyam and Odissi, as well as modern dance vocabulary. This collaboration between Dakshina, a Bharatnatyam and modern dance company, and Sakshi Productions, a neo-classical and contemporary Odissi dance company, explored the borders that separate dance histories and vocabularies, the classical from the modern, as well as dancers from their audience.

The program began with Pushpanjali, a Bharatnatyam choreography in which the dancers offered flowers as an invocation to the gods. The five dancers of Dakshina exhibited perfection in their movements, synchronization, and formations. I overheard one of the other members of the audience describe the piece as 'cute'. I thought the bright blue and green costumes looked fantastic on stage.

The second presentation was Arabi Pallavi, an Odissi choreography based on a raga that builds in rhythm, speed and complexity, presented by Nandini Sikand and Donia Salem. I have learned a few Pallavis during my twenty-three years of training in the Odissi dance form and could therefore tell the dancers executed it to perfection. However, I was a bit put off by their costume which was basically the bottom of the Odissi dress worn over a tight fitting full-sleeved plain white leotard. The dancers also didn't wear any ghungroos. Altogether, the presentation didn't really have the traditional feel that Odissi exudes. I suppose from the dancers' perspective, the deviation from the traditional Odissi costume is justified in that the theme of the program was performing the border between the classical and contemporary dance forms.

The next item was titled Kaddish, a choreography by Anna Sokolow and presented by Mellisa Greco Liu, of Dakshina. The dance portrayed movements inspired by Western classical, contemporary and ballet. This was followed by Stone in Breath, a choreography of Akim Funk Buddha (who specializes in Classic Hip Hop rhymes, Beat-Boxing and Mongolian throat-singing), and the Odissi dancers Kakoli Mukherjee, Donia and Nandini. The point behind the choreography was performing Odissi to Hip Hop rhymes and Beat-Boxing, etc, and the dancers tried to portray that sculptures came to life and started dancing to the beats they heard. I know a Kuchipudi dancer who wasn't pleased with this piece at all, but having worked on various experiments on mash ups of Odissi with Western styles myself, I quite liked how the Odissi dancers tried to merge bols (Odissi beats) with Akim’s Hip Hop rhymes and Beat-Boxing.

The next couple of items were contemporary duets - By the Light performed by Melissa and Daniel Phoenix Singh (Artistic Director of Dakshina), and Point of Departure, performed by Carrie Rohman and Nandini. Neither choreography left a lasting impression on me, but I recall the latter piece being performed in costumes which displayed inspirations from Orissa - knee-length trousers made of silk with the typical Oriya sari border, worn with short kurtis of the same material.

The first performance after the intermission was Prithibi (An Excerpt), choreographed by Malabika Guha who hails from Shantiniketan (Tagore’s hometown). The choreography was based on Tagore's poem Prithibi and was about Mother Nature and her giving yet unforgiving character. While the costumes were not very impressive, the choreography was extremely powerful and engrossing, and the commissioned music by Tarit Bhattacharya and Company (Kolkata) was brilliant. I daresay this piece was the favorite of the audience that evening.


Next was Symbiosis, choreographed and performed by Nandini and Daniel which was once again a depiction of the theme of the show. The concluding performance was Vasanth, Daniel's choreography in Bharatnatyam performed by ten dancers of Dakshina. The same blue-green costumes of Pushpanjali were worn and the choreography was brilliant once again. Vasanth was the retelling of how Spring returns to earth after years of desolation when Shiva was in a trance after his first wife Sati's death, and all the seasons came to a halt. One of the dancers who narrated the story used brilliant expressions and hand gestures. One part of the choreography where Shiva falls in love with Parvati, was a duet in contemporary rather than Bharatnatyam.


All said and done, I suppose each individual piece engaged with the notion of borders in a unique way and drew the attention of the audience to the constructedness of these divisions. The choreographers literally and metaphorically, ‘performed’ the borders that separate them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Draupadi - Will my spirit live on? - Shivani Wazir Pasrich Production at the Roy Arias Theatre, NYC

Draupadi, a play in English, interweaving tales from the epic past with contemporary Indian life was set to be both a poetic piece of drama and a truly dazzling affair involving the most misunderstood nayika in Indian epics. Some of India’s foremost names in the arts joined together to create a wonderful spectacle, with Ritu Kumar designing costumes, Aman Nath conceptualizing the set design, Anjolie Ela Menon’s intense painting being the signature of the play, and Shubha Mudgal lending her wonderful voice to the production.

The play drew attention to the roles of women in society throughout the ages, through an exploration of the dramatic and compelling figure of Draupadi herself. 
Centuries have gone by since the Mahabharat war, yet Draupadi is still here. She is found stuck between heaven and earth, roaming the streets and pondering her fate and her choices.

Her only confidant is Lord Krishna. She tries to resolve with him why women must continue to suffer as she had in the past.

Krishna, the orchestrator of fate, leads her to Maaya - a woman of today, who has suffered much abuse at the hands of society. A distraught Maaya attempts suicide, but Draupadi stops her and offers her help in return for a favor.

Maaya treads through her life in Draupadi’s footsteps, and in the end she too has to make a choice between revenge or resilience. She becomes Draupadi’s salvation, and Krishna is able to address centuries old smoldering wounds.

The play, enacted in front of a small audience at the Roy Arias Theatre, concluded with an interactive Q&A session between the audience, the actors and the dancers (yes, there was also a small Odissi duet, a la Bollywood style, where no production is complete without a song and dance sequence). The audience and the actors discussed their interpretation of the work, and a psychologist from the audience even explained his take on 'revenge' and 'forgiveness'.