In only 10 years, the annual Fall Festival of Indian Arts has become a Washington area mainstay. The festival’s dynamic program Friday at Sidney Harman Hall demonstrated that this first-rate festival is mature for its years, yet still young enough to bristle with bright promise. It is a heady combination.
The opening program paired festival organizer Daniel Phoenix Singh’s newest work in his signature blend of bharatnatyam and modern dance for the Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company with four works in the traditional style of Odissi classical dance, presented by a New Delhi-based company led by Madhavi Mudgal, a renowned exponent of Odissi style. Far from being an odd pairing of two different genres, the program flowed because both artists innovate with hearts that honor classical traditions, and both bring a rare sense of modesty to what they do.
Mudgal was the disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, who is credited with renewing Odissi dance, a lyrical dance style from the eastern Indian state of Orissa. Two of the works Mudgal brought were created by Mohapatra in expressive pantomime style (abhinaya). But it was Mudgal’s own two works in nonrepresentational, or pure, dance style (nritta) that thrilled with their quicksilver pace, precision that could withstand scrutiny by an electronic microscope, and softness and elegance that held fast in even the speediest of passages.
Singh’s “Tulsi: A Life in Balance” explored the myth of a goddess and queen molested by Krishna disguised as her husband and who then, despite not being at fault, is deemed a fallen woman. The work is a reflection on gender violence. Singh’s mature choreographic style has shed its earlier, hybrid awkwardness and now has the easy confidence of a strong identity all its own.
Squires is a freelance writer.
The Fall Festival of Indian Arts continues Friday and Saturday.