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Flash Review 1, 8-16: Putting the
Dance in Folk Dance
Janavak: Not What I Thought
By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2001 Terry Hollis
The following statement is not PC:
When I walk into a folk dance concert, no matter what culture is being represented,
I'm pretty sure I know what I'm gonna see. Point blank. I think we all have images
that pop into our heads when we hear "Folk Dance," but my broad (and embarrassingly
narrow) preconceptions about India's native dances were graciously updated by
the Janavak Folk Dance Group. Presented last Wednesday as a part of Lincoln Center
Out of Doors, this component of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmadabad,
India showed the energy, skill, beauty, and tension that evolves from everyday
chores, from flattening the ground with poles to transporting water across a scorching
At one point during the evening's
only "contemporary dance" moment, two of the company's men begin an intricate
martial arts inspired phrase mixed with fluid, academic arms, but they never become
"dancers." They present strong, able bodies able to communicate the sequence,
not for show but for integrity.
Using vigor and complexity, Janavak
managed to raise the heat on an already sweltering night (and teach me a thing
The highlight of the night for me
had to be the Bhavai (covered by desert) from Rajasthan. Apparently, water had
to be transported over long distances in Rajasthan and these dances evolved to
make the trip a little more bearable. As performed here, a male dancer has a ball
engaging the audience with a "couldn't be easier" demeanor as his companion gradually
adds pot after pot to his head (with a grand total of six). The music takes the
dancer through balances, knee walks, and spinning until you're sure he'll lose
at least one, but as the numbers grow his confidence and playfulness do too. Towards
the end, with the pots stacked six high, what he can't do with his body is transferred
to an expressive, animated face and the crowd stops worrying and joined in on
the fun. The women are introduced in a robust "Gond" dance from Madhya Pradesh.
The movement has its roots in using sticks to pound and flatten the earth, and
it seems that the women take special pride in showing the vigor and strength that
they can muster up. I don't want to read too much into it because it is based
on a basic chore, but this dance builds to such a raw, fever pitch that to see
a group of women performing it holds lots of subtext (that we will leave to the
The closest that we got to contemporary
"Modern Dance" was a male duet based on the martial arts forms of India. It grows
out of a long, slow, sculptural section with both men mirroring each other in
yoga inspired poses. All of this proves to be a stylized warm-up as the momentum
builds and the movement links to kicks, squats, and lunges all paired up with
wildly complex arms.
The tone of the duet does owe a lot
to "concert" dance, and it is the only piece on the program that tries to generate
it's own self-contained drama.
What really stands out is the way
bodies trained in physical disciplines that are traditionally not showy trim the
edges off of "pretty" movement. From Manipur was a short, hypnotic solo with two
swords. As the drums rumble, the circular intertwining of the blades keeps you
fixed on the performer and you lose sight of which is doing the driving: the music
or the movement. Other dances brought the colorful spectacle that comes with celebration.
Oppana, a wedding dance from Kerala, brings the bride's party and the groom's
party on in separate groups. Carrying brightly-colored handkerchiefs, they join
at the end weaving in and out of each other, mimicking their partners' foot patterns
Janavak rounded out the night with
dances depicting mythology, fertility, and a celebration of the coming of summer,
all refusing to be lumped under my generic "folk dance" umbrella.
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