Friday, March 5, 2021

Breathing life into Konarak sculptures

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Shakti presents a unique interpretation of Bharatanatyam at the Adelaide Fringe Festival

Shakti is a fascinating artiste. The first time I saw her perform, I was very impressed with the purity of her Bharatanatyam and the beauty of her bold non-Bharatanatyam. I have since seen her perform several times at the Adelaide Fringe, and have been struck by different things. But always different. I mean, Shakti is always different!
Shakti.Indian Link
Born to a Japanese mother and Indian father, Shakti grew up in Japan but with a huge Indian influence. Her mother, whose Indian name is Vasantamala, is probably Japan’s first Bharatanatyam teacher. Shakti grew up with the music in her ears and the rhythm in her feet when she began to walk. She says that when she began school at 4, she was surprised that other kids did not know the Alaripu or a simple dhi-dhi-thai!
From her father she learnt yoga and understood Indian philosophy. He was a professor of English at the Kyoto University and the founder-director of the Gandhi Institute in Kyoto. Getting the best of India in the rich cultural environment of Japan, Shakti continued learning Bharatanatyam from gurus in India too during their frequent trips to India.
While doing her M.A. in Indian Philosophy at Columbia University, New York, she also learnt modern dance with Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey and Jazz with Luigi. Returning to Japan, she developed a unique hybrid form of dance, blending an array of Eastern dance traditions and yoga with Western jazz.
However, she says, “I realised what I truly related to, was Indian classical dance. Bharatanatyam is a meditation and a celebration at the same time. The whole body, every muscle, is used to make up the whole. The stance and footwork connect to the earth with the rhythm moving to the hands and every tiny muscle in the face moving to enhance the dance – the eyes, eyebrows, nostrils, mouth, lips, cheeks… all add to those expressions and postures.”
It is clear Shakti loves Bharatanatyam, and you can see it in her dancing. Every part of her body is infused with the spirit of it and you can see the sensuousness of our temple sculptures in her modern dances as well. These are exotic, erotic and usually shocking. Not for the faint hearted!
Shakti.Indian Link
The name ‘Shakti’ means energy, and you can literally feel this energy emanating from her. However, when I meet her, I feel it as a calm energy, like that of a deep river, calmly flowing but you know the undercurrents are there. It is in her dance you see this energy, both creative and destructive, serene and chaotic. Her modern dances also lean heavily towards Bharatanatyam especially in the stance and abundance of facial expressions giving the physical theatre of Western dance a very Indian touch. She has been called the “Dancing Phoenix” and “Sculpture in Dance”.
At this year’s Fringe, Shakti is performing Visions of Konarak, showcasing the timeless beauty of these ancient sculptures.
“They are the ultimate celebration of life and love,” she says.
I expect the performance will bring these sculptures to life, and transport you to a mystical time when the gods and goddesses danced on earth.
As artistic director of Garage International, Shakti is also instrumental in helping overseas artistes to come and perform at the Fringe. From the sub-continent this year, we have Baul singers from Bangladesh and a documentary film about river erosion there. The Singhing Sisters are from Belgium doing opera meets jazz (that’s interesting!) and Devika Bilimoria is presenting “a bizarre ode to an ancient Hindu ritual” with a life-size Shiva Lingam being consecrated by layers of thick and glossy paint poured by the hands of passers-by (even more interesting!)
Shakti’s other performance at the Fringe is The Woman Who Dances With The Wolves which has been described as “a story of woman’s ascent to liberation and descent into madness.”  It is an old piece that she has performed in Edinburgh and London in the past and London Times described as “a wild dance experience not to be missed.” I have been warned this is definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Fascinating work by a fascinating artiste. The Indian performances are all on the weekend of March 5-6 at North Adelaide Community Centre.

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Vinaya Rai
Vinaya Rai is a counsellor by profession with interests in writing, radio, emcee'ing, organising and attending events.

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