Richardson — The past year has been one of growth for Tejas Dance—from their debut at the annual Dallas Dances to their collaboration with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in their Spring Series program. It’s been exciting to see how power partners Bhuvana Venkatraman and Chintan Patel find innovative new ways of sharing the classical Indian technique of Bharatanatyam with contemporary audiences. Comprised of eleven duets and solos, The WOMAN next door tackled concepts of identity, determination, and strength by examining examples of ordinary women from classic tales and historical events. In traditional Tejas Dance style, the company prefaced these theatrical performances with spoken narrations revealing stories of goddesses and heroines who inspired the choreography. An evening rich in cultural stories and embodied rhythms, the WOMAN next door celebrated the timeless strength of the ordinary woman.
To introduce these themes of power and identity, Pushpanjali featured the duet in a fast-paced rhythmic pattern of call and response movements. Crisp heel stomps and slapping feet produced a playful, cheery atmosphere. Strings of white flowers dripped from the ceiling as Venkatraman and Patel circled the stage with buoyant knee bends and slicing arm reaches. While a richly colored tapestry and inviting shrine also decorated the stage, I did find myself missing the live accompaniment of musicians from previous productions.
Symmetrical formations, parallel lines, and tapping fingers offered a more subtle mood in Tishra Alarippu. In jaunty strides, the couple slid into articulate hand, upper body, and facial ticks that demanded close attention—drawing the audience into an intimate partnership.
Devi Beejaakshar highlighted the diverse qualities of Tejas Dance by showcasing waving arms, snaking upper bodies and twisting wrists. A fluid, soothing tone emerged as the dancers swayed their hips in curving shapes while gently pricking the space with their distal limbs. Vocalized mantras echoed through the space adding an ethereal touch to an already visually luscious scene.
Inspired by Kausalya Devi, Thumaka Chalata centered on the aging mother’s memories of her son growing into a man. Emotionally charged choreography displayed her story through pleading palms, circling arms, and theatrical facial expressions.
A celebration of the average woman wouldn’t be complete without an exploration into one of the deepest human bonds—friendships amongst women (#WomenSupportWomen am I right?!). Sakhi Hey-Ashtapadi examined exactly that. In her first solo of the night, Venkatraman embodied scenes between Radha and her friend through delicate pantomime and sly looks. Cautious shifts and entreating nods caused viewers to lean in to this delicious, secretive vignette.
Patel continued this narrative style into Kannagi, a physical interpretation of one woman’s fight for justice. From distraught, slumped shoulders to harsh, percussive stomps, Patel moved through a wave of emotional states before finishing with determined, pounding fists. While many of the works featured theatrical physicality, this piece was the most successful blend of expressive gestures, narrative, and dynamic movements.
In Smarasundaranguni, Venkatraman took on the role of a woman spoiled by her loving husband. With erect posture and a lifted chin, she commanded attention through regal poses—exhibiting the seductive, charming quality of her character. Near the end of the solo, Venkatraman skimmed her feet in quick, rhythmic patterns similar to soft-shoe tapping that added a sense of groundedness to her queenly embodiment.
Revealing a tender side, Patel portrayed a woman leaving behind her childhood love, Krishna at her wedding ceremony in Mogadoochi. In diagonal spatial patterns, he created a bustling stage mirroring the excitement of a wedding. But in between hopeful waves and timid smiles, his bowed head and reaching fingers carried longing and loss.
Historical figure Queen Rani Lakshmibai of rebellion and Indian identity was interpreted by Venkatraman with strong, confident hand gestures and floor slaps. Solid diagonal stances reflected the strength of her character while fast-striking rhythms evoked rebellion and resistance in Jhansi.
After a lengthy string of solos, the partners reunited for Sikhandi—a refreshing return to the deep lunges, stiff balances, and floorwork from earlier in the production. While still maintaining a narrative, this piece activated a more engaging full-body experience. Telling the story of a transgender person searching for belonging, self-acceptance, and identity, the duet swept across the space is smooth body circles, cutting kicks, and bent knee swoops. A truly athletic combination of Bharatanatyam steps, Sikhandi was a much needed boost of energy.
Closing the night, Thillana and Mangalam left audience members with the concept of honoring these women of the past by internalizing their ideas. Continuing the athletic aesthetic, the duet kicked, jumped, and balanced in angular shapes before stomping and slapping their feet to match the intricate rhythms of the upbeat accompaniment. Their direct, forceful dynamic served as an effective ending to the multi-storied production.