Indian dancers dance with their eyes. They train them too. That’s evident in this image of the great Indian classical dancer Uday Shankar (Ravi Shanker was his little brother and Jack Cole was his student).
Modern-dance choreographer Yvonne Rainer wisely reminds us that the mind is a muscle. So, too, are the eyes.
The pedagogy behind eye-dancing was demonstrated well on Saturday at 24th Street Theater‘s long-running Explorer Series, which introduces the performing arts to families.
Shakti Dance Company director Viji Prakash tantalized a theater full of kids, visiting the cute Pico-Union theater, with her engaging lecture deconstructing the classical Indian dance form, Bharata Natyam.
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By contrast, the dancers’ disengagement from their audience was one reason Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s first of two performances at UCLA Royce Hall disappointed. Behind “Orbo Novo” is hot Belgian choreographer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
The dance opens with a man and woman reaching arms toward each other through a red-lattice movable structure that separates the two and dominates the stage. They don’t connect. This forms the key metaphor for Cherkaoui’s failure to connect to his audience through the theater’s so-called fourth wall.
The dancers’ averted gaze prevails through the piece, which is set to a repetitive and unremarkable string quartet by Szymon Brzoska (confusing program notes indicate live players; I thought it was a tape). Cherkaoui’s squiggling, spineless, accent-free choreography noodles around the red jungle gym, mostly low to the ground. The dancers dance with backs to the audience, making us disengaged voyeurs, a tough slog following a long work week.
Modern dance fans are used to this treatment. One viewer explained to me that “the dance is very internal.” Because my taste in art hinges on humanity, communication, and connection, the work passed me by. Dark lighting design further dampened its proceedings. Here, have a look for yourself.
The eyes had it in John Jasperse Company’s recent performance at REDCAT. When Jasperse’s dancers take the stage, they plant themselves firmly, looking straight out, and hit it hard with fulsome dancing. I also love the sequence in Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s highly coherent production of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, in which young Cindy descends a flight of stairs on her high pointes, her rapturous expression beaming onto the audience. This full-on presentation of the human face takes courage and it sticks in the memory — unlike much of what happened on the Royce Hall stage Friday night.
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I’m a latecomer to Indian dance — but better late than never. So I’m looking forward to an upcoming performance at Barnsdall Art Park, an L.A. treasure looming above funky Hollywood Boulevard.
A visit to Barnsdall is always excellent. Home to Hollyhock House, one of the three Mayan-inspired, textile-block residences Frank Lloyd Wright built in our town, the extended art park includes grassy picnicking area, galleries, and the FLW. It was all the passionate project of arty oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in the 1920s. The view gives out to the Hollywood sign, and the hilltop patch of real estate devoted to creativity fosters a tremendous sense of well being. Recommended.
Chitresh Das Dance Company | Rina Mehti, Kathak soloist | Barnsdall Art Park | Sunday May 16, 6 pm