The Tehreema Mitha Dance Company
'Across All Borders: A Choreography with Freedom'
by Carmel Morgan
April 27, 2008 -- The Lyceum Museum, Alexandria, Virginia
Tehreema Mitha came to the United States in search of choreographic freedom. She had pushed the envelope as far as she could in her native Pakistan, where she headed the country’s only dance company. Mitha learned classical Indian Bharatanatyam-style dance from her mother, Indu Mitha, a noted teacher and performer. She is a gifted performer with a hunger for experimentation as well as traditional dance.
The Tehreema Mitha Dance Company, based in Bethesda, Maryland, is committed to the performance of dance that retains an Indian sub-continental flavor, striving to spark an interest in dance among those who find a split between their cultural heritage and the world around them. In a recent performance, the company partnered with the local non-profit Empowered Women International, which provides a network of support and creates opportunities for immigrant and refugee women and families in the northern Virginia and metropolitan Washington, D.C. area using the arts as tools of empowerment, communication, cultural understanding, and entrepreneurship.
The company performed four works. Two were solos by Mitha, and two were works in which Mitha was joined by company members Radha Gholkar and Deepa Ponnappan. Two were classical works, and two were contemporary pieces.
First was “Zara Dheeray Say Bolo” a moving classical solo by Mitha, choreographed by Mitha and her mother. Mitha appears jewel-laden, with bells on her ankles. Her face expresses a remarkable range of emotions: joy, fear, sadness. She is as animated as a storyteller around a campfire. Every movement of Mitha’s is part of a conversation, and every gesture tells part of an intriguing tale.
In “Tillana,” another classical dance, company members Gholkar and Ponnappan bring to life a statue of a dancer. In carefully placed poses, the two dancers are frozen in time. Their eyes and chins move ever so subtly and beautifully as, in unison, they balance on one leg, with the other bent at a right angle in front of them. Later the works picks up pace and the duo crosses the stage in diagonals. The bells around their ankles show off their synchronous footwork.
Following the two classical works were two contemporary dances with traditional flair. In “Raqs-E-Rooh” (“The Dance of the Soul”), Mitha finds inspiration in the words of the Sufi poet Rumi. Between each breath the soul is reborn, and in Mitha’s dance she passes through life’s seasons with movements varying from calm to restless. Cloaked in white and donning a red hat and sash, as if prepared for burial, Mitha’s indomitable spirit is present in each inch of her body. She rolls on the floor and twists her arms together with fervor.
Finally, the company performed “Across All Borders,” an ensemble piece that is, in part, a tribute to the courage of artists around the globe. In the beginning, a border is physically present in the form of golden-hued fabric stretched across the stage. The border is held tight by fishing line, with a dancer on either side. The music, by Peter Gabriel and Nusrat Fateh Ali, is, like the dance, a unique blend of contemporary with classical influences. Eventually, the “wall” disappears, leading to a lively trio, complete with rhythmic feet and clapping. The dancers wind in a circle like hands on a clock spinning around. Would we all work together as well as these dancers if the lines we know were somehow erased?
The Tehreema Mitha Dance Company offers masterful dance centered on universal themes. According to the company’s website, “Our themes are about today, about all of us, wherever we may be in the world. But we are today the way we are because of where we came from and what we were yesterday too and that is something we cherish as we step forward on the adventure of this new millennia.” Indeed, while deeply rooted in classical dance, the company is also forward-looking, presenting an engaging present-day style that honors tradition as it enthusiastically reaches toward the future.