Richardson — Upon entering the Bank of America Theater at the Eisemann Center on Sunday night, I felt immediately transported to a world outside of Richardson, Texas. Twinkling tea light candles and burgundy flowers trailed the front of the stage, leading to an extravagantly adorned alter. This serene setting turned the large, traditional theater into a closer knit, intimate space—providing a warm, welcoming environment for Tejas Dance’s presentation of PratibhAsa: Anthology in Dance. In addition to sharing the classical Indian dance technique Bharatanatyam, founder Bhuvana Venkatraman also gave the audience an immersive artistic experience through live musicians and selected mantras and poetry. Together with dance partner Chintan Patel, the two took audience members on a journey into India’s past and present through sacred words and musically charged movements.
The dancers prefaced each piece with a brief description, reading, or excerpt of the poetry, narrative, or mantra on which it was based. Because the evening consisted of ten pieces in total, it might have been useful for viewers to have these words written in the program for better comprehension. However the dances managed to speak for themselves in a way that could still be appreciated and valued without complete familiarity with the stories to which they were tied.
Pushpanjali began the show with a steady, calming introduction from the musicians. Composed of vocals, a violin, a flute, and a mridangam, the orchestra sat in a panel along the side of the stage. Venkatraman and Patel emerged from the curtains after the musical tone had been set. The two added their own sound through hard, booming heel stomps, jingling ankle bells, and ringing jewelry. Mostly in unison, the duet gradually picked up speed and stepped, shifted, and stopped for an explosive opening.
Alarippu – Thirupugazh took a step back from the high-energy fervor of the first piece and focused on the intricate flashes of jetting eyes and detailed hand gestures. The duet’s stiff, erect posture allowed for clear visuals and stark isolation of the head, torso, and lower body. A musical crescendo caused a burst of acceleration from Venkatraman and Patel while they trickled their fingers down like rain before jumping into a series of bows, freezes, and swooping arms.
Describing the Hindu goddess Uma, Soundarya Iahari manifested her beauty and compassion in the dancers’ low poses in deep second and swirling overhead arms. A motif of bridged hands in front of the chest balanced the abrupt balances and holds of the movers. Flashes of detail occurred as the dancers fanned their fingers open as if flowers bloomed from their hands. These small moments called to the earlier descriptions of beauty and grace.
In the first solo of the night, Patel embodied the poetry of Varugalamo. This piece addressed the caste system and untouchability—revealing a devastatingly emotional story. Patel reached his hands upward in desperation before letting them fall to cover his mouth as his expression begged for acceptance. His arm dropped from high to low as he visually described the caste system and plead with wide eyes.
Venkatraman returned with Nachiyar Thirumozhi, a solo about a girl who dreams about being kissed by the lord Krishna. Awe and wonder crossed her face while she lay on the ground propped up by her elbow, basking in the beauty of her dreamland. Venkatraman delicately picked and threaded an imaginary flower necklace before waving her hand to her lips. Less action-packed than the first few pieces, the focus here surrounded her gleeful facial expressions and elaborate hand motions.
“Memories are seeds in our souls that grow painfully,” echoed throughout the theater as a preface to Payyada. Examining reality vs. memory and imagination, Patel’s solo consisted of wavering steps and conflicted drags. His darting eyes emitted feelings of bliss, confusion, and nostalgia.
Perhaps the most compelling performance of the night, Panchali Sabadam referenced the darker story of a woman dragged by her hair to face her accusers; praying to Krishna for salvation. In addition to the arresting movement, the dancers mentioned the importance of including a story where the victim was penalized, noting how this ancient tale is still relevant today. The striking red lights brightened on Venkatraman, pulling her hair violently across the stage. She fell, crawled, and grabbed at her sari aggressively in an attempt to shield herself from insults and physical harm. Her piercing scream signaled a shift as she gained strength. Venkatraman ended by shaking her head “no” and crossing her arms in an X above her chest—a powerful finish to a jolting narrative. After she left the stage, both her verbal description and visual representation reminded me of the attitudes towards victims in the current #MeToo era.
Patel’s Ashtapadi touched on the tenderness of love. Wearing a chain of white flowers, he covered the stage with runs and turns as he attempted to “dispel Cupid’s arrow.” Patel rippled his upper body in undulating waves, engaging his head, shoulders and back. This piece revealed a more fluid body compared to the rigid sharpness of the first dances.
In Avan Ki Awaaz, Venkatraman explored Krishna’s influence on the world. Slower paced and less engaging than her pervious solo, most of her movements involved gazing curiously about the stage and returning to a figurine on a table.
Concluding with Thillana, both Venkatraman and Patel reunited as a duet to illustrate ideas of peace, wholeness, and unity within creation. Jumping back into the electric energy of the first pieces, their eyes darted in circles as they sunk deeper into the floor. This suddenly expanded into diagonal arm reaches, precise jumps, and compact turns.
By using a dance form so closely tied to narrative and storytelling, Tejas Dance transformed a selection of poetry into a visually stunning tribute to Indian culture, community, and humanity.
» Tejas Dance will also perform this weekend at the Dallas Dances festival. Read our preview of the performance here.