Paijat Desai Dance Company: Artist-in-Residence Works-In-Progress
- Aditi Sriram
e-mail: aditi.sriram@gmail.com
Photos: Keerthik Sasidharan

April 12, 2010 

A work-in-progress is constantly moving, shifting, evolving - a dance in itself.  In their recent showing on March 24 at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, Parijat Desai Dance Company (PDDC) moved through this space of vision and revision with nimbleness and concentration, drawing the audience into their bold experiments. Presenting excerpts of two new works, Artistic Director Parijat Desai finds dance in the seams between different fabrics of form, including Indian classical dance (Bharatanatyam) and American modern/post modern dance. She delivers a taut demonstration with her ensemble; the final performance can only be more alluring. 

Dancers Aditi Dhruv, Kiley Durst, Carly Fox, Belinda He, Mohan Kulasingam, Cori Marquis and Riyo Mito are warming up as the audience files in, revealing snippets of their performance as they leap and twirl, stretch and twist. For this viewer, such informality is an unconventional introduction to the dance and the dancers; a conversation has begun between dancer and viewer, and the music hasnít started playing yet.

Desai first shares excerpts of her tentatively titled piece Make Space, performed to electronic music by Dave Sharma/SubSwara, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Samita Sinha, which itself re-contextualizes Indian instrumentation and vocals. The dancers begin in a cluster with classically Indian footwork and spread out to fill the stage. The music's contemporary beats anchor dancersí movements, which originate from sculpted Indian form but unfurl at different angles, creating an unusual modern aesthetic.  The gestures and positions of Bharatanatyam become dynamic as performers undulate their bodies, roll to the floor, and permeate the stage space. Crisp and light, the dancers' steps emanate to all four corners of the stage, creating a space to dance within, and a dance to take space with. 

The second piece shared, Songs to Live For, is based on North Indian classical vocal music and references the Mughal courts where this music developed. Desai uses recordings by renowned classical musicians, but for PDDC's upcoming June performance, envisions collaborating with local talent; live music allows for inspired exchanges between the musicians and dancers as would have happened in the court centuries ago. The excerpts are also enhanced by a stream of art work projected onto the back of the stage (designed by Swati Khurana and Neeraj Churi). Eternally calm and august figures - exalted Mughal royalty - watch in painted silence as the dancers bring to life scenes of the age-old story of love and devotion.

Songs, performed by the ensemble including Desai, appears to tell a more established story but without a script. Typically, Indian classical dance acts out the words being sung and adheres tightly to what is played by musicians. But Desai responds intuitively to this haunting music, and has worked with her company to develop a more complex and intimate narrative. Dancers morph between specific formations - four dancers depict a diamond of pillars; three bodies draw a slanted line; one figure shadows another. There is also the unpredictable arc of a conversation, crying to the Lord about a broken heart in one section. The dance becomes the music and the music the dance: we hear pining in the rich soundscape and see it in the tapering forms of the dancers. At one point, dancers gather in a corner and cheer on their peers, doubling as musicians and viewers, clapping to sustain the rhythm, further blurring the line between music and dance.

Individually, each dancer gestures elaborately, making full use of the body with a spectrum of delicate, angular, sinuous movement. In a tense and sensual duet, Durst and Marquis spill into each otherís space with tender hugs and vehement leaps: they flail at and fall onto each other; they twirl around each other and support each otherís jumps.  Both female, they challenge the notion of a love tangle being exclusively between man and woman; love, like spirituality, knows no boundaries, and gender is but relative.  Their conversation appears to move through arguments, agreements, revelations and questions and the audience is left curious about divinity, friendship, trust, and the sense of self. 

Desai adapts the tools of dance to expose the edges between techniques, and to map an ongoing process of constructive transformation. At the intersection of classical and experimental forms, she poses the question, Should dance tell an established story or convey a personal interpretation?  PDDC's work plays at both, revealing points of contrast and convergence between tradition and individual expression, between historical moments and lingering emotions.  Dance is a fluidity of grace and posture, and Parijat Desai Dance Company captures this exchange of flesh and air with precision and truth.

Tribeca Performing Arts Center will present Parijat Desai Dance Company in performance on Saturday June 5 and Sunday June 6 in Theater 2, tribecapac.org/air.htm  


Aditi Sriram is an aspiring writer in New York City.  A Columbia University graduate, she has worked with writers at the 92nd Street Y and the Gotham Writers Workshop.  Her work has appeared in a number of publications including the biannual magazine 'We'll Never Have Paris' and websites thisisfakediy.tv and dance-enthusiast.com.