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Satpathy at Drive East’s 2019 San Francisco’s Opening

18 Aug

Drive East is the mid-late summer festival of Indian music and dance produced by Navatman, a New York based cultural institution, for the  past four or five years. From August 5-11 Drive East presented its array of artists in New York and August 15-18 in San Francisco. Headlining are Indian-based artists of considerable luster., In both instances many performing are resident in the respective areas; it is clear Navatman wants engagement and recognition for these exponents, many of whom are U.S. born. In San Francisco the festival has been co-presented as Drive East: Locally Sourced by Nava Dance Theatre, directed by Nadhi Thekkek, at Z Below, the small theatre space originally created for the Traveling Jewish Theatre.

And luster in probably the only word I can give to Bijayini Satpathy, whom Marina Harss interviewed for the New York Times August 2 and reviewed for Dance Tabs August 8, utterly felicitous, worthy accounts for this remarkable artist. Satpathy’s program was short, 75 minutes, followed by Hidayat Khan and Enayet Hossain, sitar and tabla who performed an hour’s exposition of one raga.

Bijayani Satpathy is a small, beautifully proportioned, exquisite-faced woman with eyes proclaiming woman’s mysteries at their most beguiling, and the allure arising from shifting moods and transient emotions. Her hands are supple, her fingers eloquent accents and her arms  constant reminders as facilitators to feeling. I cannot fathom any man in his right mind being able to resist her. Her portrayals, with all the transient expressions rising in her eyes, underlined by a facial muscle or two,  her mouth completing the emotion, were utterly free of guile, thanks to her subject matter, save, of course for an impressive portrayal of Ravana, the demon who abducted Sita to Sri Lanka.

Satpathy’s dance style is Odissi, the classical form from Orissa, where the medieval Hindu temples are copiously adorned with dancers in the tribhanga, or three angled-position, constituting Odissi’s basic classical stance just as Bharata Natyam is noted for the triangle, Kathakali the square and Kathak the vertical, a penetrating analysis made by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan.

A former member and teacher at Nrityagram, the recorded music is credited as its source. Her four number program had  for choreographers Surupa Sen for Srimati and Sakhi He and the late, great Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra for the opening Mangalcharan and the final, masterful Sita Haran.

Let me refer to Marina Harss’ review for details of Satpathy’s dramatic gifts. For me her dramatic range solidified itself between Sakthi He and Sita Haran with the contrasts between the bewitched, compliant feminine and the slimy, savage, rapacious Ravana wild-eyed, unhinged, demonic.

When Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan lectured at U.C., Santa Cruz she emphasized that the popularity of the Gita Govinda was based on Krishna’s human incarnation, providing the devotee with a deity to whom Hindus could relate and converse, giving rise to the Hindu bhakti or devotional movement, of which the Gita Govinda is the supreme example.

Sakthi He embraces the convention of the nayika or heroine, confiding in her sakhi of her experience with Lord Krishna and their mutual passion, asking the sakhi to bring them together once again. Satpathy’s portrait exposes the most intimate expressions, my reaction one of feeling I was spying on two passionate individuals.

From such a sense of exclusive exposure, Kelucharan’s Sita Haran steps into narrative of good, evil. the cause and effect of naive and innocent desire, setting in motion the enormous struggle involving Rama and Ravana, no less interesting but clearly more objective in subject matter and treatment.

Sita Haran explores the Golden Deer episode of the Ramayana, the object desired of Sita, her plea to Rama and his soldiering his bow, the false cry to Lakshman, Lakshman’s initial refusal to respond and the utter misery when Sita breaches the magic lines drawn by Lakshman, plus the magnificent bird’s death throes after his attempt to rescue Sita.

As Johanna Friedmann and I waited between Satpathy and Hidayat Khan, Paul
Parrish remarked with distinct awe on the measured beats of Sita’s despair when she realized she had been deceived. I added how taken I had been with the convulsive death gasps of that fated bird.

I wish I was more cognizant of the Hindustani musical tradition beyond its format and the practical conventions of the tuning of both instruments, sitar and the two drums constituting the tabla. I am generally familiar with the Hindustani musical history. assisted by Wikipedia, but I don’t pretend to musical expertise in its practice or theory.

India-based Hidayat Khan, the 7th generation sitar exponent, is a singularly handsome-faced man with chiseled features, whom I passed smoking en route to Z Below; Enayet Hossain appears to have settled in Maryland, working on Hindustani musical texts as well as collaborating cross-culturally musically. It might be noted that Maryland was Chitresh Das’ introduction to the United States.

The tuning of the instruments took several minutes, Hidayat applying a wooden tool to adjust the pegs;  Hossain required more vigorous adjustments to his tabla than I have been accustomed to.

The selection, announced by Khan, and starting with the letter J, was one he attributed to his father, Ustad Alludin Khan, and Hidayat provided a number of references which were difficult to catch. But as partial testimony to his father’s compositional skills, Alludin Khan was responsible for the music of Satyajit Ray’s Jalsagar.

The raga itself lasted an hour and was warmly received.

One negative note regarding the program itself, printed on slick black paper, with the daily performance printed on a white insert. While it provides basic information on the artists appearing, both East and West Coast based, in addition to Satpathy and Khan, the color does not lend itself to easy reference, and it led me to speculate whether its use was due to a special discount on disused stock. I hope the 2020 festival corrects the color; it was hard deciphering on senior citizen-aged eyes.