Bells Are Ringing

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At the premiere of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble show Sacred Spaces Saturday afternoon (say it with me: “enrishyagram”), there seemed to be some confusion among the ushers about seating arrangements – maybe it was the incense wafting through the theatre - and things took a while to get going. But once they did, it was nirvana. With a small bug-eyed representation of Krisha standing in one corner of the stage, how could it not be? The dancers of Nrityagram live together in a self-sufficient commune outside of Bangladore, India, where they devote themselves completely to the sacred art of dance and the higher principles associated with the arts, as envisioned by founder Protima Gauri in 1990. The style of dance the group practices is called Odissi, inspired by temple sculptures - and the dancers of Nrityagram do look remarkably like Hindu sculptures come to colorful life. Wearing rich silk costumes and ornate, bejewelled headresses, belts, anklets, necklaces, and bracelets (most of which seemed to be outfitted with small bells, too) , the five women looked themselves like gems in a black jewel box. A live band playing traditional sacred Indian dance music, which easily moved from mournful to ecstatic, accompanied the group from the pit at the Emmett Robinson Theatre, and the effect was remarkable.

Like the geisha from the previous evening’s performance in the same space, the dancers all utilized meticulously nuanced inflections of movement – with their hands, their heads, their feet – to tell stories in a series of abstract scenes. But unlike the geisha, the dancers’ faces were one of the most expressive features of their dance. Wearing heavy makeup that accentuated their eyes, they expressed themselves as actors as much they did as dancers. And then there’s that distinctive head weave. Combined with the ironic eyes and the soulful smirks, I half expected any one of them to do a three-snap and say, “Oh no you din’t..”

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