June 17, 2005 -- St. Martin’s in the Bullring, Birmingham
A faithfully detailed and well-polished Bharatanatyam performance is happily not a rare sight in Birmingham. It is highly unusual, however, to see such a treat taking place in a Christian church. Kalai Kaviri’s performance company of fifteen dancers represents the University College of Fine Arts of the same name, which is based in Tirachirapalli, South India. The college take approximately two thirds of its pupils from amongst talented out-caste youngsters, funding and training them to professional standards, and is financed jointly by the charitable projects of the local and global Christian and Hindu faith communities.
The college’s population is made up of roughly half from each religion, and succeeds in creating a harmonious spiritually based education that emphasises worship through artistic practices. Hence, Kalai Kaviri find themselves in Birmingham city centre providing a free open-door performance. This is part of an extensive UK tour throughout this month and July (for more details see the Guardian Guide).
The performance programme was a mixed platter of Bharatahatyam, Kathak and traditional folk dance. It was clear that Bharatanatyam is the college’s speciality and this special quality shone out through the skills of the vibrant young performers (for the Baratanatyam-heads: the college's style can be traced back to Rukmini Devi Arundale of the Kalakshetra Foundation).
Despite some dubious detours into Creationist theory evangelism and ‘western’ fusion dance, the repertoire was an exhilarating combination of the three strands of the art form. Abstract, technique-based Bharatanatyam exemplified the aesthetic charm of pattern rhythm and geometry infused with a radiantly buoyant expressive quality only seen emanating from expert dancers. A sparser, almost entirely gestural piece showed the beauty of dance-as-prayer.
To the audience’s delight, there was also a lighter narrative duet: a battle between the Peacock and the Snake. Two short solos ingeniously expressing the movement qualities of each of these two animals: the Peacock erect and moving with tiny flexed- footed steps whilst making staccato ‘pecking’ neck movements; and the Snake, arms entwined and vertical, executing a swift twirling manoeuvre on the knees and shaping 3-D ‘S’s with the ribs and torso. Then a conflict erupted, ensuing in a somewhat spurious struggle. Imagine the audience’s surprise when the Peacock’s nondescript ‘tail’ suddenly fans into a huge and glorious display of real peacock feathers. She stands over the supine snake, iridescent against a backdrop of stained glass windows. Exquisite. Enough to make those of the most catholic of tastes feel like leaping from their pews and dancing in the aisles.
Edited by Staff.
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