October 14, 2006
I just sat through the torture of Ekaanta Seeta, the newest DANCE TRAUMA from the dance- stable of CCA - the brainchild of arts producer Uma Ganesan. The 'trauma' speaks of poor, poor Seeta who is alienated and alone in her life and her final hours. It also highlights the story of Lakshmi of Jhansi and finally has an "everywoman" Aparajita who somehow ends up in a bakery/papad co-op to show her empowerment!
While the choreography was elemental and the strong ensemble dancing uninspired, this viewer wants to know why, at this age and stage in their careers, did the Dhananjayans put their names and bodies to such a mediocre and childish production. The only section that held together somewhat was the first. Perhaps that was the only section that guru VPD actually supervised since I cannot believe that he had anything to do with the awful second and third sections. L Narendra Kumar was hopeless and non-saatvic as Prince Rama and the normally excellent Srilata Vinod was dull and lifeless. A ridiculous jathi for the drunken scene by Tiruchelvam was the icing on the charade that passed as new or contemporary choreography!
The costumes were garish and not suitable at all. Less said about the music the better and the biggest losers were the women. They were the least empowered and feminist groups should gherao the show and protest at this farce! The fact that the entire Brahmin community of mamas and mamis had turned out in full force - many had driven from Buffalo and Detroit to see and pay obeisance to the Dhananjayans - made this viewer even angrier since there was nothing in this work that furthered the profile of Indian dance internationally. Following that horror called 'Gajamukha' which left us all shuddering in disgust 2 years ago, 'Ekaanta Seeta' has to be the worst example of fusion dance from India this year. It had the perfect smorgasbord of kitsch – classical, filmi, folk, martial, lokadharmi, natyadharmi – everything and the kitchen sink was thrown in.
That women need rescuing by men all the time and through the ages is the premise of Ekaanta Seeta and something that smacks of middle class Brahmin morality at its height! This "dance trauma," coming on the heels of the very filmy Priyadarshini Govind, throws a very sad light on the plight of what is exported as India's greatest and finest in solo and ensemble work. Three hours long, Ekaanta Seeta actually dumbs down everything subtle and glorious about Indian dance and reduces it to the lowest common denominator. Sloppy announcements, bad lighting design and slip shod production values. I can go on and on. The few good moments were negated by the pompous tone and boring mish mash of movement that had no single aesthetic. The filled auditorium saw the few Canadian audiences leave very quickly with many scholars and young dancers gasping in fury! What is normally discussed and never printed is being said here and now since most reviews will only praise this disappointing work and never speak the truth.
Since narthaki.com is the only medium where some honest opinions can be expressed, I am hoping that this article can be placed on the site so that those who are going to watch this dance can be prepared to face the onslaught of tired ideas and middle class morality parading as contemporary work! The work is touring the USA on a 40 performance tour and needs to be seen and discussed as all that is wrong in this age of 'dumb and dumber'! Like Seeta, either the audience or the dancers should be swallowed up by Bhooma Devi just to escape the torture of sitting through 3 hours! Is this all that we in the North American diaspora can consume in the name of art? Has Bharatanatyam become a cultural product more than an art form of beauty and nuanced depth?
I wish that all the students of 'Annas' and 'Akkas' around the US can tell these senior gurus that it is high time to step down and just mentor young dancers and not hog the stage and the limelight! The Emperor has no clothes! Please let them know that we are watching them stark naked – of ideas or integrity! Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan should be congratulated and honored for her excellent review on narthaki.com. It is right on the button!