'Divine' Dances Tie Ancient Past With Present 
by SASHA ANAWALT 
DANCE REVIEW October 1, 2001, L A Times 
Photo credit: Bala Bharadvaj 
 

November, 2001
 

 
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena California is known as a host of one of the largest collections of South Asian Art in the United States.  When the museum, for the first timed in its renowned history, decided to present an evening of dances as part of their Friday night series, they approached renowned dancer/choreographer and commissioned her to make this breakthrough presentation.  After studying the collections closely, Ramaa designed a 40-minute presentation, "DARSAN - Dances of the Divine".  Presented on Friday September 28th, to a completely sold-out audience, the program 
depicted three of the Chola images from the exhibit by bringing them to life through movement. 

"The bronzes tell a story - they are movement captured in time, mythology in a frozen state. The purpose of my performance was to bring out, through the dancing body, the stories, the texture, color, dimension and movement that are inherent in these frozen masterpieces.  My choreography 
was aimed at bringing out not just the visual imagery, but the very spirit of these dancing Gods.  Our mythology and its symbolism are not antiquated fantasies!  They are extremely relevant to the present times.  For eg; while choreographing for the "Dance of Krishna", I saw a great metaphorical 
significance relevant to the crisis that the United States is enduring at this very moment.  The serpent Kaliya's brutal attacks on the village people are subdued by the youthful Krishna who finally dances on the snake's hood. In the story, Krishna is not a grown-up.  He is a child.  It is a dance 
celebrating the Power of the Children, a Dance of the Future, a Dance of Hope.  I was tempted to rename it The Dance of "Enduring Freedom" says Ramaa Bharadvaj. 

The following is a review of the performance as it appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

 
Times like these sometimes call for dances of cosmic proportions. 

Ramaa Bharadvaj's program Friday at the Norton Simon Museum would under any circumstances have inspired awe, but it did the more so because aesthetic connection between classical Indian dance and current events was not avoided. 

She encouraged her audience for "Darsan--Dances of the Divine" to visit the Norton Simon's stunning, permanent collection of Chola bronzes before the performance, making us aware that her three new works had been inspired by images of the deities Ganesa, Krishna and Siva. Squashing dwarves beneath their feet, swinging their raised legs across their bodies in dynamic defiance, the 10th century figures of Siva as Nataraja--master dancer of the universe--let you know that the cycle of destruction, preservation, and creation is indeed endless. These bronzes are old. The dances and stories they depict are even older. 

After audience members returned upstairs to the Norton Simon Museum Theater, Bharadvaj asked them to consider the stage sacred. (This was the first time the Norton Simon had used it for dance, and the sightlines and amplitude of the intimate theater are ideal.) She gave it her apt blessing with "Invocation to Ganesa," strewing imaginary petals before the path of the lumbering, elephant-headed god, danced by Swetha Bharadvaj. 

But it was the "Dance of Krishna" and the concluding, "Palli Ezhuchchi--The Awakening," both in the Bharatanatyam style, that really charged the place. 

In "Krishna," Bharadvaj's student, an impressive 9-year-old prodigy, Medha Raj, teased excitement out of the air with a victory dance over the collapsed body of Swetha Bharadvaj as a polluting river demon. In the vision of this confident child, Bharadvaj wanted us to see hope, alluding to the present national crisis in her program notes--and we did. 

And in "The Awakening," a solo for an arrestingly expressive Swetha as Siva Nataraja, we felt the full metaphoric impact of history's relentless creation-and-destruction cycle, as she swung her leg across her body and ended in the exact pose of the Chola bronze seen earlier. 

Remarks by esteemed Asian art scholar Pratapaditya Pal and the lighting design of Chris Flores enhanced the one-night-only program.  
 

Reproduced with permission from Sasha Anawalt 
Sasha Anawalt 
e-mail: anawalt@earthlink.net