By Lika Posamari
With the men, it begins. Choreographer Aimin Teng in white, six Chinese dancers in black. Two female Indian dancers, Souraja Kapoor and Kantika Mishra appear, dressed in gold and red. The lotus flower and red fan are here introduced as symbols of the meeting of two distinctive cultures, as Kapoor greets the audience holding both. Lotus flowers adorn stage right. Rukmini Chaterjee appears in white, forming with Aimin an elusive duo strong in spirit, symbolic of cultural commonalities. This forms the humble introduction to our protagonists from both sides of the border, a gentle invitation into the absorbing scenes to follow.
Kapoor defiantly takes the stage and embodies Bharatanatyam. She captures a double audience, that residing in the auditorium and the six male dancers that look on mesmerized from the back of the stage. They playfully respond to her movements through mirroring with their own or in stark contrast, offering contemporary dance finished with extra spins and greatly agile kicks with a distinctive influence from martial arts. They attempt to woo her yet she responds to only one. It is here in the duo work, as the depicted lovers dance their story, that a meeting is felt, of the classical and contemporary, of contrasting physicalities. There is no complexity in the storyline itself, but rather the layers of movement that dance upon it are what really brings multiple dimensions to this enthralling performance.
Jealousy and rage toward the male member of the couple inevitably follow the love scene with the striking presence of red fans joining the ensemble, now five in number. He who was at one with them is now rejected as they become a force against him, the red flicks of fans opening, creating a divide within the group, juxtaposed against dark curtains, clothing, and movements. As the excluded closes each fan, they are then utilized as pointing sticks, a tool of alienation. He makes another attempt to get back on side with his peers, dancing white flags onto the scene which is unanimously rejected, the musical score building in dynamism and drama.
This tension is almost quickly forgotten as we are taken to Kantika Mishra, who has been gently looming, spinning on and off stage periodically. She is now a fully captivating force of Kathak, as she offers grand spins and mind-blowing footwork. After the heavy force of rage and rejection, she lifts the room with high energy in a distinctive manner to her Chinese counterparts with subtle, deeply enthralling movements. She too takes a male partner, as their respective dances amalgamate and diverge. Three pairs brace the stage, all distinctive not just between nationalities and cultures, but in the artistic flare, they offer individually, stylistically contrasting but with high levels of technical skill and precision.
The stage then hosts the duo in white, like a thread that is woven through the story, as they return and offer a smooth almost meditative encounter. Their hands meet on the inside of a string of beads, as they dance not in contrast but in confluence. The performative brilliance of each individual dancer is exemplified by cohesive ensemble work throughout that gives value and presence to each dancer while also highlighting the alchemy created by the collective.
The final scene brings all dancers back together, the configuration on stage depicting a scene of union, as the complementary and compelling soundtrack breams toward a finale. Teng and Chaterjee pour red and white liquids into a dish, another representation of alchemy as the lotus flowers appear on stage once more. Each dancer adorns their forehead gracefully with the liquid that is the amalgamation of two in a newfound ritualistic ceremony, officializing the cultural rendezvous through the avenue of dance.
Rather than the stated intention of a gendered exploration of male and female or Yin and Yang, what really stands out is the contrasts and confluences in the distinctive dance styles of the contemporary Chinese and classical Indian next to the seeming mélange or entwinement depicted through the performances of Teng and Chaterjee.
After the curtain falls, the room is full to the brim with applause as the crowd rises to their feet, the dancers bracing the stage one by one and for the last time, sharing their unique energies and charisma once more. This is one performance that offers an example of great collaboration that can take place across national borders but also the possibilities for new discoveries in artistic expression that may only result from the meeting of unique cultural assets and the exploration of commonalities.
Beijing City Contemporary Dance Company: Chen Xin, Chen Xiuzhuang, Jia Tianyu, Zhang Mingsen, Zhang Zihao, Zhao Yue with Souraja Kapoor, Katika Mishra, Aimin Teng and Rukmini Chaterjee.
Choreography Rukmini Chaterjee with Aimin Teng.
Music by Bickram Ghosh.