Skinner Kirk Dance Ensemble

DanceWatch Weekly: Intersecting with India 2

The week ahead in dance along with some reflections inspired by 17 Indian dance groups

Since Saturday night, I have been riding on a blissful cloud of happy after seeing 17 Indian dance groups from the Northwest and beyond perform as part of Nritsovava, a fundraiser for Kalakendra. The Portland-based organization founded in 1987, that promotes the performing arts from across the Indian subcontinent through classical dance and music performances.

The dancers—adorned in bright, shiny golds, glittering jewels and effulgent smiles— brought to life the stories of Lord Krishna, the goddess Saraswati, Shiva, the Mahabharata and so much more. This epic, four-hour dance concert represented an enormous swath of dance styles from across India. It was a feast for the senses, and included samosas and tea at intermission. You might think that a four-hour dance concert was a bit long, but it wasn’t. I was truly sad when it was over. But I’m a big fan.

Since the concert, my brain has been abuzz with many thoughts about contrasting cultures, the role and importance of dance in society, women, beauty, and bodies, to name a few. Some of my bigger observations are queries I’ve decided to list below. Feel free to respond to any of them in the comments section below, but please be polite.

  • If you were to look at a map and chart trade routes, migration patterns, and colonizations, you would clearly be able to see similarities between the different cultures of the world. This makes the white nationalist idea (which has become central in the policies of the Trump administration) of a “pure” American culture pure baloney. Culturally, America is rooted in Puritan traditions, African American culture, American Indian culture, and then it has incorporated traditions of all the immigrant groups that have moved here. We are a global culture with distinct regional flavors. This is also true in India and was evident this weekend in a performance of a dance from Goa. Goa, on the West Coast of India, was colonized by the Portuguese 450 years ago and the dance and costumes look distinctly Spanish. The women wore long, ruffled skirts and red flower earring, and the men wore formal looking black dress pants, white button down shirts, and black fedoras.
  • Why are visual art, music, and theater much more understood and supported than dance in America? Why in America does art seem like an outsider activity? This is not the same in India. Is this because of America’s Puritan roots? This discomfort with the body in American culture runs deep, and it’s disturbing to me. Why is American culture so removed from the arts?
  • Why is the American standard of beauty so narrowly defined, especially for dancers? I much prefer to see a variety of bodies and ages on stage. This is a much more inclusive idea that focuses on a person’s talents and not their genetics. Thankfully, it’s a big, broad, beautiful world out there with a lot of variety, and beauty everywhere, so we aren’t stuck looking at one thing.
  • It was a true pleasure to see so many different dance groups sharing the same stage. This is something I wish Portland’s contemporary dance community would do more of.
  • The Northwest has an incredible talent pool of Indian dancers in all styles. I would like to see concerts featuring these dancers produced outside of the Indian community by non Indians. White Bird perhaps?
  • Often times community performance events can be loosey goosey and of lower quality, but this performance was none of that. The choreography and dancers were spot on. It was exceptional.
  • The theatre, Evans Auditorium, which seated 400, was full and not everyone was Indian.
  • I think it’s important to go see dance and experience cultural events that you aren’t familiar with. It helps develop empathy and so much more.

Which brings me to Portland dance this week which includes more opportunities to stretch yourself. No pun intended. The skinner|kirk Dance Ensemble blazes through their second weekend; Chitra: The Girl Prince, co-directed by Sarah Jane Hardy and Anita Menon, continues at Northwest Children’s Theatre; and an evening of flamenco, Fall in Love with Flamenco, will be hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland.