San Francisco Performances presented Shantala Shivalingappa November 1

4 Nov

Following Brian Seibert’s glowing, perceptive October 31 review in the New York Times, Shantala Shivalingappa danced her ninety minute solo concert at Herbst Hall November 1 supported by four able musicians. Seeing her first on the same stage a year ago, Seibert’s praise was not exaggerated.

As she came on stage to render homage in Ganapati Vandana, I was struck how like Shivalingappa resembled current ballerinas in size and profiles; put her
alongside Natalia Osipova, and they could pass as cousins; not only physically, but her clarity of technique and expressive fullness was mingled with a reticence rising from matching portrayal to rhythm.  When an arm was raised en haut or extended with the hand in a mudra, the line was impeccable, harmonious, revealing a dancer at home in her body, with a technique to convey mysteries.  The combination  achieved was not merely applied schooling.

That Shivalingappa is the protégée of Vempati Chinna Satyam is not surprising;
he is the prime guru in the classical tradition of Kuchipudi.  In 1973, Vempati
gave a student demonstration for Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, historically a pivotal advocate for Indian government arts supports who recognized his teaching caliber immediately.

The refinement Shivalingappa brings to this form, relying on many Bharata Natyam traditions and wedded to a story-telling form of distinct details, is amazing. The subjects concern Hindu deities and goddesses or devotees. Celebrating Ganapati, the remover of obstacles, anyone used to mime in Western  ballet could find familiar territory.  Shivalingappa’s description of Ganapati stated his skin was golden and his crown lustrous, but she informed us  he had a rounded belly, elephant ears and trunk. The difference for Indian classical dance tradition lies essentially in the source; arising from religious devotion immersing the spectator in exposition emanating from the artist’s imagination..

Excepting Manipur, Odissi and Kathakali, Kuchipudi as this artist practices
it enjoys a remarkably flexible use of the torso.  In Kathak or Bharata Natyam,
the torso does not move so much. The base remains completely firm, the slap of the feet and use of bells join the sister classical forms to mark the dancer’s acute synchronization with the horizontally held and played mridangam.

Jetty Ramesh was vocalist again; I noticed a stylistic difference in his melismas.  Where flamenco starts the tuning arabesques of sound before the singer utters words, Ramesh employed word or phrase, before elaborating on the word or syllable.  Whether standard practice is hard to know; in Bharata Natyam, Balasaraswati tuned into thematic material like flamenco.

Shivalingappa demonstrated the prototypical goddess in Kirtanam where Padmavati dreamt of arguing with her husband Lord Venketeshwara.  A gold-bordered white cloth represented the bed as she lay in stylized slumber, awakening in fright over the frightful dream of discord with her spouse.  The relief in her realization that it was merely a dream was totally childlike.

In Pasayadan, Shivalingappa brought the program to a close with her sweet, husky soprano echoing the divine ecstasy of the poet Dyaneshwar before disappearing  behind a shimmering white curtain which fell plunging the stage into darkness.

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