Traditional Indian Dance, With Room for New Blood

This was Drive East’s fifth annual season. It’s organized by an Indo-Ameircan team called Navatman. Watching five of them (one man, four women, one with fair hair dance Bharatanatyam with marvelous verve was to reflect further on the sociology of the Indian diaspora. The way the four women moved together in lively, often funny, harmony was a perfect image for the season.

Because most of India’s classical genres are organized on the alternation of abhinaya (or expressional movement) and nritta (pure form), the stylistic diversity of each artist soon becomes evident. Even so, Ms. Jayaraman was like two contradictory elements. When she’s dancing, she’s slicingly incisive, brilliantly percussive, firmly — and very excitingly — controlled, palpably rejoicing in the brisk multidirectionality of gesture that’s a central part of Bharatanatyam’s armory. Yet this powerhouse also becomes an actor capable of both religious awe (in an invocation of Shiva) and human pathos (in “A War Poem,” she played a mother whose young son is killed in battle, with astonishing passages of stillness to convey the various layers of shock and numbness).

Ms. Suri, ravishingly dressed in cream and gold, at once made the rapid footwork and gestures of Kuchipudi absorbing and, in statuesque positions, she has piercing beauty of line, too. Overall, she combines vitality with sweetness; the fluency with which she strings her sharply pattering steps into prolonged phrases is a particular part of her spell. In the Tarangam — a memorably characteristic item of this genre’s repertory, with the dancer standing on a brass plate but propelling it with rhythmic footwork — she tipped her body sideways more than I’ve ever seen. Yet she’s almost invariably communicative, using eyes and arms to invite the audience into her world.

Within the same genre, Mr. Das has more attack, more hunger. Nobody ate up space so eagerly or…

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