Speak at Z Space

24 Dec

Brooke Byrne and I saw the final of three performances of the cross-discipline, cross-cultural production of Speak December 19 at Z Space, featuring Michelle Dorrance and Dormesha Bumbrey-Edwards,tap masters, and the Kathak disciples of the late Chitresh Das, Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas. The quartet was supported by Jazz musicians Allison Miller, drums; Todd Sikafoose, bass; Carmen Staaf, Piano; the Indian musicians were: Debashis Sarkar, Vocal; Jayana Banerjee, Sitar; Satyaprakash Mishra, Tabla. Seibi Lee, who narrated, was responsible for the Manjira. Miller and Banerjee were also credited as composers. Kara Mack was responsible for poetic deliveries at the beginning and near the conclusion.

The production,sponsored by the Chitresh Das organization, was also well funded by some prestigious local foundations. Its presenter may also have decided to eliminate the Dorrance, Bumbrey-Edwards and Mack biographies from the program, choosing instead to emphasize the three artistic directors of Chhandam, the Das-founded school of Kathak. To say the least, it was a clear omission.

Dorrance and Mehta commenced the program with a display of percussive sound; both they and the other performers were dressed in sand-color, Dorrance and Bumbrey-Edwards in tunics and trousers, Metha and Nivas in full skirts displaying their leggins, skirts whirling gracefully through their multiple turns.

Dorrance is lean, fairly tall; her lanky prowess is almost “aw shucks” in movement style, stretching her legs to second position plie and then bring them to a snappy close; your abdomen reacts automatically in empathy if lacking the skills of toes, heels and rapidity. I have rarely seen a dancer submitting herself to the awkward in the service of dance, still looking so good.

Mehta’s strength is her command of the bells on her feet in triple rhythm and ability to progress from single to triple speeds. When gesturing outwardly, her arms are graceful; when she goes into fast turns, the elbows drop like partially-wounded wings, a speed technique frequently seen in Das’ own rhythmic feats where speed obliterated the otherwise vertical image.

Rachna Nivas recounted the history of Rama, Sita and Laksman demonstrating the Indian dancer’s ability to depict masculine and feminine characters. Such requirement is a common denominator for Bharata Natyam as well as Kathak. . Rivas’ tandava, or masculine style, is well formed, if given to the boisterous side. Some story details I found unusual; Laksman as the boisterous brother, skeptical of the ruses of Ravana. In the Ramayana, Laksman’s demeanor is so circumspect that he doesn’t look at Sita beyond her ankles; none of such rectitude was suggested in the Nivas’ version going so far as accuse Laksman of wanting Rama’s kingdom. The ending, Sita strewing her jewels like pebbles for Hansel and Gretl, is another anomaly to my understanding of the story; in the forest, she retained such riches? Sita’s general behavior missed the gentle nuance I have noted frequently in Indian women and Indian-born Kathak exponents.

Dormisha Bumbrey-Edwards is a familiar artist to tap fans, having appeared in the former August-scheduled Bay Area Rhythm Exchanges. Loved by all the fans I know about, her cacophony of sound ebbs and flows like an allegro passage in a piano sonata, torso bent slightly forward, arms and elbows out, covering the stage space.nimbly, with a certain nonchalance that takes the breath away. One of her fans declared, “She’s the African-American Fred Astaire.”

I thought Dormisha might not have verbal sounds equivalent when she later joined Rina in an exchange of sound, Rina reciting bols, Dormisha rendering an amazing cascade of clearly jazz, hip-hop cluster of letters, a equal syllabic parade.

An exposition of each set of musicians came in the second half of the two hour program, which lacked a intermission. Even in Indian festival marathons there are breaks and the audience feels free to wander in and out.

The audience was enthusiastic providing an immediate standing ovation. Kara Gold I learned on the Web is primarily a dancer, but I suspect her dance style is
such it did not fit the Kathak-tap parameters. Her vocal delivery is very strong,
declarative, a few decibels too loud.

Prakash Janakiraman in his introduction declared that all four artists were masters of their form. I am afraid I limit my appraisal to Dorrance and Bumbrey-Edwards. Mehta and Nivas are genuinely gifted, but nuance, refinement and a certain discipline in triple rhythm still need developing. That said, the program was a remarkable salute to the collaboration started by Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith. It’s a pity that the program short-changed the information relating to the
tap tradition.

Dormisha and Michelle shared a set before Rina and Rachna matched bells, bols
and turns, and as a finale all four shared the stage, with both sets of musicians
accompanying them.


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