Spilling Ink delivers spirituality through art
- Colleen Morrison
Photos: Madhavi Reddi, Madhaviarts

March 29, 2017

"Seeking sanctuary in space, energy embraces me. Sharp white, crisp paper spills over brittle black ink, beginning argument the moment I quest for the sacred."
So begins Alekhya: Spilling Ink.

Ten years ago, Spilling Ink creative directors Vijay Palaparty and Nalini Prakash presented this ambitious classical Bharatanatyam dance project to rave reviews at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai, India, and now, it has come full circle, drawing sold-out crowds at Dance Place (in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, DC), a prestigious North American dance presenting organization, on January 28 and 29, 2017.

"We thought it was fitting to come back to one of our first performances to celebrate who we have evolved to become, as artists, individuals, and an organization," says Vijay. "In each project we create, art comes to life in a new way, fresh and different. When something is spilled, it really has no control. How the spill is addressed is what is interesting."

In Alekhya: Spilling Ink, this "spill" is embodied in every element of the performance. The work sweeps the audience up in a choreographic process that responds to poetry, with lyrics set to classical South Indian Carnatic music, seeking ways to create conversations about the spiritual components of the classical Indian arts. Staged in six acts centered on palpable engagement, Alekhya: Spilling Ink takes the audience on a journey through raw emotion, a trembling struggle to connect with the divine through art. More than dance, it is a celebration of the senses, an awakening that revels in a yogic mindfulness where art links the physical and spiritual planes. From tactile allusions to the velvet of lotus flowers to saliva induced on the tongue by a reference to saffron and sugar, the entire performance overtakes the audience, compelling them "to paint, to sing, to dance, to feel."

"Art engages, it inspires, it heals, and it connects," muses Nalini. "Our goal was to evoke emotions from our audience, so they not only experience but truly transcend boundaries through the performance." Meticulous attention to detail enabled that truth. From lighting that created a physical longing to feel the colors circling the dancers to the breath of fogged humidity inhaled from the set's haze clouds, the work brought an earthly quality to an ethereal encounter.

The sheer physicality of the performance itself powers the program along, flowing from isometric stillness to a whirlwind spinning through the ever-changing landscape. A glance of the eye or a motion of a wrist signals as much meaning as a more difficult choreographic execution. This tension offers a balance between the search for stillness and the frenzied pace of life. The performance concludes in search for the one, universal truth, final words echoing, "While spilling ink, there is peaceful departure." Given the wide-eyed awakening of the audience at the performance's conclusion, this particular departure signals the hopes for a new beginning, another 10 years of creative vision from Vijay and Nalini.

Spilling Ink offered the program in memory of renowned Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam guru, choreographer and scholar Dr. K. Uma Rama Rao of Lasya Priya in Hyderabad. Vijaya Ramam, her sister and secretary of Lasya Priya graced the occasion and offered remarks after the program. The other dancers included Sujit Vaidya, Rashi Narain, Kaushika Prakash and Krithika Rajkumar.

Colleen Morrison is a communications strategist and writer in Washington, DC. She is a regular contributor to a range of publications and a patron of a wide genre of arts.