Navarasa Dance The­ater’s En­counter uses clas­si­cal dance, mu­sic, and more to re­veal a con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous cri­sis

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY JANET SMITH

En­counter uses clas­si­cal dance, theatre, mu­sic, and ac­ro­bat­ics to tell a har­row­ing con­tem­po­rary story of vi­o­lence in India.

Navarasa Dance The­ater draws on India’s clas­si­cal arts, but its sub­ject mat­ter is of­ten grit­tily con­tem­po­rary.

Take En­counter, the dance-theatre work the Bos­ton-based com­pany is bringing here. The show fuses tra­di­tional In­dian mu­sic, bharata natyam, mar­tial arts, and ac­ro­bat­ics—but far from the light spec­ta­cle that mix might sug­gest, it cen­tres on a tale as po­lit­i­cal as it is dis­turb­ing. Based on a Ma­hasweta Devi short story, it fol­lows Dopdi, a poor In­dige­nous woman fight­ing for jus­tice in India against cor­rupt, op­pres­sive forces.

To un­der­stand how dark En­counter gets, take a clue from its ti­tle: it’s a sin­is­ter eu­phemism used in India by law en­force­ment to brush off run-ins that end with the tor­ture, death, or dis­ap­pear­ance of op­po­nents.

“The state will say, ‘It was an en­counter,’ but the en­counter tac­tic is to im­prison peo­ple, and so many times those peo­ple die,” Aparna Sind­hoor tells the Straight from Bos­ton, speak­ing over the phone with cocre­ator Anil Natyaveda, be­fore head­ing to Van­cou­ver.

“The original story hap­pens in India but it’s pretty much hap­pen­ing around the world to In­dige­nous peo­ple,” she stresses. “In India, you have no idea what is going on in the deep forest where the state is so abu­sive to the In­dige­nous peo­ple.”

Sind­hoor’s work was not al­ways so po­lit­i­cal, but she was im­mersed in dif­fer­ent art forms as a girl. From a young age, she de­voted her­self to the clas­si­cal dance form bharata natyam (“My classes were ev­ery sin­gle day,” she re­mem­bers), but also stud­ied singing and theatre, thanks to par­ents who loved those art forms. As a young adult, Sind­hoor be­came a clas­si­cal dance soloist who toured the coun­try, but after years of de­vot­ing her­self to the art form, she be­gan to tire of it. “My father said, ‘If you don’t like what you’re do­ing, go make your own dance,’” she re­calls, and that’s just what she started to do in her stu­dio—de­part­ing from bharata natyam’s tra­di­tional sub­ject mat­ter of deities and mythol­ogy.

It wasn’t till she left for Bos­ton Univer­sity, where she re­ceived her doc­tor­ate in dance, that Sind­hoor re­ally started push­ing the bound­aries of her form—and founded her com­pany with Natyaveda and writer-direc­tor S. M. Raju. In­dian-raised Natyaveda brought his own ex­ten­sive train­ing in clas­si­cal dance and an in­ter­est in so­cial is­sues: “My father was a poet and a so­cial worker so I had a very good view of these prob­lems,” he says.

In­spired by Devi’s mov­ing story, Sind­hoor started cre­at­ing En­counter back in 2009 as a solo, but found the sub­ject mat­ter too tax­ing to face alone. “It was a lit­tle much to emo­tion­ally han­dle,” she ad­mits. “Anil said to me, ‘Do a group pro­duc­tion so there’s more sup­port.’ At Navarasa we’re al­ways build­ing fam­ily and com­mu­nity within the per­for­mances.”

In the show, she and Natyaveda play artists who slave un­der ex­ploitive landown­ers by day and en­ter­tain and rally their fel­low peas­ants to re­sist in their off-hours. The two say they chose the farflung per­for­mance styles—from Natyaveda hang­ing from a cen­tral sym­bolic pole in an aerial dance to vil­lagers us­ing mar­tial-arts tech­niques dur­ing a clash with au­thor­i­ties—ac­cord­ing to what best suited the sub­ject mat­ter. “We never say, as chore­og­ra­phers, ‘Let’s put an aerial dance here,’” he ex­plains. “When we think about the emo­tion of the sec­tion we go for what that calls for.”

What they’ve cre­ated is an id­iom all its own— some­thing the L.A. Times de­scribed as “a time­less, mythic pre­sen­ta­tional style with a charged po­lit­i­cal mes­sage that’s strangely con­tem­po­rary”. At the same time, Sind­hoor and her col­lab­o­ra­tors have gone be­yond the pol­i­tics of their home­land, and man­aged to make a work they now see as a tribute to In­dige­nous peo­ples around the globe.

The Cultch and Diwali in B.C. present En­counter at the York Theatre from Tues­day to next Sun­day (Oc­to­ber 17 to Oc­to­ber 22).

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