by Stephanie Rieke
With a deliriously gorgeous performance by world-renowned artists the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble in April and news of a professional company devoted to Indian classicism to call our own, it's been a great year for Indian dance. "Prachi Dance Theater" is the newly minted moniker of the Ann Arbor branch of the Pittsburgh-based Srishti Dances of India. Artistic director, choreographer, and principal dancer Sreyashi Dey, who founded the group, recently moved to Michigan and has been actively building its presence through performances and educational outreach in the community.
The company's most recent Ann Arbor appearance, in March of this year, evocatively paired two Indian classical dance styles Odissi and Bharata Natyam. The expressive five-piece program began with what read as a movement prayer: slow poses in sequence and deep one-legged knee bends. Afterward, the smooth and rhythmic intricacy of Bharata Natyam's angular sidesteps gave way to pure Odissi bliss, all liquid curves and coy gestural isolations. Extensive program notes and voice-over introductions assisted those audience members for whom the stories were unfamiliar.
On Saturday, September 16, at Washtenaw Community College's Towsley Auditorium, Prachi presents two contemporary interpretations of Indian dance-dramas choreographed by Dey: Karna and Kunti, which premiered in Calcutta in 2002; and Chitrangada, from 2001. Both render episodes from one of the great Indian epics, the Mahabharata, based on the Bengali verse of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Both fuse Odissi with, this time, the Kathakali form of dance-theater. And both showcase the stylized grace of Dey and guest artist Kaushik Chakravarty, a Kathakali specialist.
If Odissi dance is celebrated for its sculptural and curvilinear poise, a codified sensuousness that traces its origins to the temple dances of Orissa in eastern India, Kathakali, from the southwestern state of Kerala, is known for its fantastic theatricality percussive productions with elaborate headdresses and makeup that go all night. Dey offers up the spirit of the traditional "total theater" experience dance, music, spoken word but
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