"Mutka: A Liberated Woman" was performed by Barkha Dance Company at The Strand Theatre.
Women have the power. All can be accomplished, all can be overcome if women acknowledge and release their oft dormant courage and fortitude.
That is the message from Barkha Dance Company, an all-female kathak dance company that performed its “Mukta, A Woman Liberated” on Saturday night at The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls. While the work is not fully formed, the evening-length dance is well on its way to becoming a work that can speak to all audiences.
This is not always the case with kathak – the storytelling dance/pantomime that is often beyond the comprehension of Western audiences. But as conceived and choreographed by Artistic Director Barkha Patel, “Mukta” is an overt and honest portrayal of women's struggles and triumphs.
As in many cultures, the “Mukta” women are tied up, pulled in conflicting directions and, in general, maintain second-class roles. Yet by invoking Hindu goddesses of knowledge, wealth and power, the Nayikas (heroines) realize that they can “launch themselves toward any dream they desire.”
The piece initially lures the eye with its beauty. A cast of seven, including Patel, are clad in colorful vests and white skirts that billow softly around their belled ankles. Dancing in formation and assembling intricate and synchronized hand-gestures, they conjure the spirits that comfort and press them to fight.
The choreography is full-bodied. The dancers battle unseen oppressors with both with fists and arrows, the latter a metaphor for their spiritual discharge. They also demand with assertive flat-footed stomping that echoed to the far-reaches of the theater. Finally, they vanquish the enemy (often found within their own minds) and rise to their full potential.
All is accompanied to music by Kedar Pandit and narration by Juhi Desai, who is also among the dancers.
Patel, however, holds sway every time she steps on the stage. A captivating dancer, she is both sharp, but soft, strong, but feminine. She is an engaging stage presence.
The Strand stage is not ideal, however. The theater, which just opened a month ago, is not fully complete. A back curtain would do wonders to hide the back wall, which is unattractive in a dance setting.
The lighting is also too bright, stealing from some of the work’s mystery. This made the spotlight, which didn’t follow the dancers anyway, essentially invisible and impotent.
Other than technical glitches, “Mukta” is enjoyable. I hope Barkha Dance Company returns with the finished product.
10 Hairy Legs, an all male-dance company, is fueled by kinetic power. (Photo by Nina Wurtzel@Hudson Valley Dance Festival)
One might think that a contemporary dance company that revolves around one gender might be lacking.
But with 10 Hairy Legs, it’s rather the opposite. The all-male company, seen on Saturday night at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park for Dance, has a leg up on much of the competition. By focusing solely on the strength and power of big-moving men, the company is fueled by the kinetic power that male dancers exude. Led by Founder and Artistic Director Randy James, the repertory company is also willing to experiment, engaging some of today’s top choreographers.
Needless to say, those that have seen 10 Hairy Legs, love 10 Hairy Legs. Certainly, every time I’ve seen them, I’ve been well-pleased.
This time around, I was also happy to see the range of the troupe of five (it actually has more dancers) has expanded. The company showed off its usual strength, but also updated the persona to reflect today’s sexual mores. While not overtly romantic, some of the pieces were flirty, allowing the company to go in a direction that it may not have explored when it was established in 2012.
This was notable in Larry Keigwin’s new work for the company, “Cruise Control.” Set to jazz standards sung by Diana Ross, the piece was a nod to the first sexual sparks that can fly between passersby. With a nightclub feel, the piece was upbeat and carefree with the five swinging by each other in fleeting and chummy encounters.
As with every piece that 10 Hairy Legs presents, the dancers were the thing. These men: Alex Biegelson, Robert Mark Burke, Derek Crescenti, Jared McAboy and Will Tomaskovic were marvels. They moved with a suppleness that served the choreography well. They were also able to do it all and do it articulately.
The evening opened with a meditative work, “So It Goes.” With choreography by Yin Yue, the dance immediately captured the imagination. Burke, McAboy and Tomaskovic tumbled through the nonstop work that set minds on a journey to another plane – both beautiful for its seamlessness, but slightly disturbing as the men shaped their hands into claws and fists.
Darkness fell on “Heist,” a work by Adam Barruch that was also intriguing. To original music by Roarke Menzies, the piece was a replaying of crimes, with stabbings, shootings, jailings and then exorcisms. The actors appeared to be rewinding and seeking redemption for murderous acts. The shadowy work was haunting and one that begs to be seen again and again.
The evening also featured Stephen Petronio’s “Bud,” the only piece on the bill that I didn’t fully enjoy. Mainly I was distracted by the costumes by Tara Subkoff as realized by Abraham Cruz. To a song by Rufus Wainwright “Oh What a World,” Biegelson and Crescenti let on that the outside world infringed on their private one. While I liked what Petronio’s was aiming for, the black straps on the costumes reminded me of sadomasochistic outfits. My mind couldn’t overcome it.
Despite that disappointment, 10 Hairy Legs remains a top 10 on the modern dance charts.
Black identity indelible in 'ink'
Camille A. Brown and Dancers performed "ink" at Mass MoCA on Saturday night.
Camille A. Brown has completed her trilogy on the black identity with “ink.” And as seen on Saturday night at Mass MoCA, the third and final piece is her best. It’s the most expressive, thoughtful and engaging.
It’s also a relief as that two that proceeded “ink,” “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” (2012) and “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” (2015), were respectively disturbing and disappointing. “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” was offensive as it appeared to mock black entertainers from minstrel to gangsta rap. “BLACK GIRL” was simply dull, a mime of girlhood games that did not lend any sympathy to the characters. Nor was there any real dancing.
For “ink,” Camille A. Brown and Dancers did move; and they also depicted the world in which they live and their ability to adapt to circumstances. Brown, in program notes, likened it to being a superhero.
The six-sectioned work began with the athletic Brown in “Culture Codes.” With a musical quartet behind her, she appeared to both dress herself and shed her skin. She violently shook her hands as if letting go of something before venturing beyond the box on which she sat. Once beyond, she stomped her feet in a rhythmic ballet and bent over to hike up her buttocks. It was partially a power play, exuding confidence, and a signal that she was still pigeonholed in a part played on the outside world.
Among the most memorable segments were “Milkshake” with Catherine Foster who shimmied and shook her whole being as if to discard something repugnant. Like Brown, she demonstrated an indisputable potency. She was vigor, she was dominance that none could defeat.
“Turf” with Juel D. Lane and Maleek Washington also captured the imagination with the two who looked to suit up and float away. Their broad view of world awed and enlightened them, but back on earth, they were once again victims of brutality – unable to breath and kicked down into submission by an invisible larger hand.
The intimate “Shedding” with Quinlan Arnold and Beatrice Capote was also indelible. As violinist Monique Brooks Roberts circled around them, the two took turns trying to contain upset and anger. The struggle, perhaps, was a reflection of the mandatory suiting up to face the world on a daily basis.
Enhancing it all was the music, from Roberts, Kwinton Gray on keyboard, Mike Ramsey and Wilson R. Torres on percussion, which was atmospheric, sharp and responsive to the dancers. The scenic design by David L. Arsenault was also fantastic – two peeling billboards framed the dances and musicians on which fully formed black faces could be seen.
The final in the triptych prompts me to rethink “Mr. TOL E. RAncE.” Perhaps Brown wasn’t mocking artists, only noting the horrible lengths black performers go to in order to be accepted and successful in this white world. The question lingers.