third I

TBA 2011: Namasya

Shantala Shivalingappa’s dream-weaving, described.

By Anne Adams September 10, 2011

In flowing white blouse and trousers, she awakes to the moaning flute and whispering rain. She arises, and follows her own arms as they bend like wisps of wheat, sometimes pointing her finger as though acknowledging a new discovery from a long way off. A startle, a self-embrace. Sparkly harps and chimes. A light from heaven, a skyward gaze. Then searching, digging, uncovering. She’s found something. A blooming lotus in a pond? She lifts it up and sets it into sudden birdlike flight, her hands releasing from a petaled moudra and fluttering free. (Maybe it’s Stravinsky’s firebird. It’s familiar, it’s pastoral, but it’s not of this world.) The light progresses: dawn, noon, dusk.

She lies down for a dream, and as she melts into the blackness a larger specter of self emerges on a screen: not a girl but a woman—a traditional Indian woman in violet and crimson, forehead bearing the bindi (marriage, the third eye). Though rendered in slow motion, her movements are traditional too: fluid arms, coy eyes, head almost sassy in its horizontal oscillations, back and forth, as if detached from the body. This mature character knows what she’s got and where she comes from.

Bongo drums and guitar set a contemporary casual, almost Latin vacation mood as she reappears in a flowing black dress, swooping and swaying, deeply bending her knees so her legs open wide. Passionate, sudden flurries punctuate her samba sway. She cradles her face, outstretches her arms, swirls like a Turkish dervish, tastes her hand. Change, flow, dynamism, drama, all in their feminine form, ensconced in a big black swirling skirt. Room to move—yet, heavy.

Another traditional sequence haunts the screens. The music has darkened and the forms have multiplied. Now two screens fixate on bits of slo-mo movement, zeroing in on close-ups of stomping feet, gestures of head and hand. Stops them, reverses them, doubles and repeats them. Examines the Indian woman from every angle while the music drones on, repetitive and trancelike.

Now there are only drums. There is only a sharp slice of white light, and she’s crouched low, ninja-like, creeping across it. No naivete now. Calculated catlike maneuvers in the dark, in a black pantsuit. At any moment, this soldier of fortune might draw a weapon and strike.

Now even the drums fall silent. She begins to dance a regular rhythm in the perfect silence, creating an anticipatable cadence, an imaginable song, with her body. The music resumes, hearkening back to the first crimson Indian dream. She gazes at her hand like a mirror, twists sharply away, looks again, then lets the mirror fall, gracefully letting go. Turning over objects in her hand, then stepping forward, parting curtains in the still air.

She crouches with her back is to us, letting the lights lend her silhouette a silver lining. The music drones and her “snake arms” slither sensually. She curls up, covers her eyes, and retreats back into the dream darkness from which she sprang.

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