Friday, 26 January 2018

Bent Bollywood - Dance Review

What: Bent Bollywood
When: 25 January - 3 February 2018
Where: Brunswick Mechanics Institute
Choreographed and performed by: Raina Peterson and Govind Pillai
Sound by: Adrian van Raay

Govind Pillai and Raina Peterson
In 2015 I was honoured to witness a glorious demonstration of classical Indian dance at the Footscray Arts Centre called In Plain Sanskrit. At the time I was mesmerised as Raina Peterson, Govind Pillai and a Carnatic orchestra introduced me to the ideas, techniques, and beauty of the traditional dance forms of Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam. Little did I know less than three years later I would be once again enchanted and inspired by these two magical performers as they combine their honour of tradition whilst breaking down the tropes to be reinterpreted in a new world in Bent Bollywood.

Performed as part of Midsumma Festival and in the wake of the plebiscite and all that has followed, these two amazing artists bring us the apt and essential reintroduction of Sri Ardhanaareeshvara to our emerging non-binary culture. Even more significant than the idea of the work, we are privileged to be told the tale through the mind, body and spirit of Peterson - the living embodiment of Shiva and Pravati. The god / ess walks among us as the stories are woven by these two magnificent dancers.

Sri Ardhanaareeshvara is portrayed visually in a few different forms, and the evening starts with probably the most famous - as the 8 armed figure. A common representation in dance, the lighting denies us the face so what we see are two bodies with arms weaving and intertwining as one, denying and defying individuality and separation.

We are then witness to the living god /ess as Peterson comes forward for their solo piece layered steeply in the tradition of the Mohiniyattam form. Delicate, narrative hand and arm gestures combine with fluid body movements depicting another popular form for the deity - being bent in three parts. The sinuous, graceful movements, never wavering from the tempo of the drone, hypnotise as they talk to us about wholeness and unity. Most people unfamiliar to the culture may not recognise the symbolism of the choreography but the divine beauty is undeniable and we can all recognise the third eye, as Peterson / Sri Ardhanaareeshvara allows us perception beyond ordinary sight.

As with their previous show, Peterson and Pillau structure the evening to begin deep in traditional form and element, gently ripping away - piece by piece - the tropes to reinterpret the concepts of male / female, yin / yang, revealing the myth of the binary in nature and spirit. The reverence of the deity in tradition gives way to the embodiment of today.

Pillau delights us with not only his incredibly athleticism and artistry as a dancer, but also with wit and humour as he begins a love story which will carry us through the rest of the evening. Using the techniques of Bharatanatyam (a traditional female dance form) he uses of hand and face gestures to tell his tale of adoration clearly and whimsically - and just a tad naughtily too!

Pillau and Peterson have structured the array of dances within the context of the the form as well, including the Nritta, Nritya, and Natyam. To experience Bent Bollywood is to experience the divine and the carnal, the spiritual and the emotional. It has everything and more including all the sparkles and spangles, lust and love, and fun and fabulousness of what you might look for in a Midsumma show.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to make you way to Brunswick Mechanics Institute to see these two mind blowing artists open up the world for you with the sweetness of nectar and the spiciness of cinnamon. It is bent. It is Bollywood. It is so much more!

4.5 Stars

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