'Strings Unattached: Ancient Texts/Contemporary Voices'
by Holly Messitt
June 25, 2004 -- Joyce SoHo, New York
Preeti Vasudevan took the stage on June 25 in the intimate Joyce SoHo theater with a sense of urgency. Dressed in a silver-gray silk halter top and steel-gray silk trousers, Vasudevan began to run, her slight, graceful body moving at first slowly and then faster and faster, around one circle of light shining from above. In the small space, we could hear her foot falls and her breath. Stage left, Rachel Golub played violin live.
“Strings Unattached” is a performance best played in such a small setting since much of the movement gains power through its closeness to the audience. The movement itself is a mixture of classical Indian Bharatanatyam, for which Vasudevan was trained formally in India; Graham and Cunningham styles; and Japanese Nihon Buyo. Based on movement to worship the gods, Bharatanatyam employs head, neck, eyes, and hands to create sculpturesque poses. Vasudevan’s use of the eyes struck me most.
Vasudevan’s choreography gains resonance through her use of the gaze. At the end of “What I See/What I Get,” Vasudevan’s solo and the first piece of the evening, the dancer stood no less than two feet away from the first row of the audience -- and seeming to stare into our eyes and yet holding her arms out as if keep us at a distance, she slowly moved backward away from us keeping her eyes steady until she finally turned her back to the audience.
A similar thing happened during the last piece, “NN…Rememory…Reality.” Vasudevan and Nilaya Sabnis played two sisters who confront the image of death, played by Joy Havens. While Havens kept a blank stare on her face throughout the piece, Vasudevan and Sabnis often appeared to look at the audience, sometimes with mirth and other times with terror. The importance of the eyes was emphasized also through exaggerated blue eye shadow and thick black eyeliner that swept outVasudevan’s and Sabnis’ eyes, turning them into animated painted images.
Contributing to the sense of sadness, terror, and dread provoked by the movement, David Eggar played his cello live in the dance space during the last two pieces. To his melancholy cello music, much of the movement involved arms twisting in a slapping motion around the waist, head and arms thrown back in a long arch, and Martha Graham-like writhing on the ground.
In the evening’s second piece, “Past/Present,” with Joy Havens and Lauren Ohmer, the audience got a chance to understand just how difficult this movement is. The two dancers often moved quickly and then had to stop short and continue their movement slowly. The wobbling in these instances underscored the difficulty of the movement, which was not obvious to the viewer during Vasudevan’s solo piece. Vasudevan is a graceful and elegant dancer whose work I will look forward to seeing again.
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