Review: Navarasa Dance Theater at UCSB’s Hatlen Theater

Aparna Sindhoor and Anil Natyaveda Led a Small Troupe on January 15

“To be all mercy, to be light … Such loving, such awareness, is what makes us one.” The resonance of this message stayed with me long after I left the theater where Navarasa Dance Theater performed their whimsical yet poignant piece A Story and a Song. Part of a three-day event at UCSB featuring art and scholarship focused on India, Navarasa’s performance, as the title suggests, combined storytelling, song, and various forms of movement and dance, including Bharatanatyam (classical dance) and Kalaripayattu (martial arts). The tale itself was sweet and simple: A poor, young woman attracts the admiration and love of a prince through her ability to transform herself into a flowering tree. Witnessing her transformation, the prince’s sister and her friends bully the woman into becoming a tree but then pluck her flowers and abandon her. The compassionate prince searches for many months before finding his wife again, restoring her to a woman. Reunited, an unseen narrator reminds the audience of the elemental ties that bind humans to one another, urging all to care for nature and each other, “to be all mercy, to be light.”

Navarasa conveyed this beautiful message through multiple mediums of lively storytelling. A cast of five performers (one man and four women, including Navarasa’s founder and artistic director Aparna Sindhoor) alternately narrated the story, weaving between spoken word and the language of the body. The prince’s search for his wife, for example, was told silently through movement as he performed on a rope, using the techniques of aerial dance to effortlessly climb toward the sky, bending and twisting into beautiful, airborne shapes. Another scene featured a duet between Sindhoor and Anil Natyaveda, playing the young woman and prince, respectively. Depicting their love, the two engaged in slow, weight-sharing movement, expressing a gentle tenderness through control and carefully chosen contact. In the most exquisitely intimate moment, the two entwined their wrists, circling their outstretched fingers around each other’s, communicating so much through the smallest point of contact.

The gestural language of the body, featuring the serpentine, expressive hands of the performers (especially Sindhoor), conveyed a story that words could not. The heels, toes, chin, eyes, and fingers — each minute, articulate segment of the body — wrote out a story in space. The performers moved with a sense of comportment and restraint, yet an undeniable vivacity and energy flowed through each digit, pulling the audience in. Using the body as an expressive, rhythmic instrument for both verbal and nonverbal storytelling, the dancers of Navarasa embedded within each movement lightness and whimsy, a subtle humor, and a constant sense of wisdom and wit, making A Story and A Song a visually diverse, entertaining, and utterly touching performance.

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