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Mitha's Dance: It's Up, Down, Always Moving

Friday, July 25, 2008

A little optimism, a little pessimism, a little eye-catching abstraction: The Tehreema Mitha Dance Company has shrewdly balanced its contribution to the Capital Fringe Festival.

The colorful 50-minute program of South Asian American dance, choreographed by Mitha, the troupe's artistic director, kicked off Wednesday with the abstraction: "Igniting (Atish Angaiz)," one of the troupe's signature contemporary riffs on classical Bharatanatyam technique. This spiky, muscular piece muses on the idea of fire; dressed in red, orange and yellow, three female performers (Radha Gholkar, Deepa Ponnappan and Mitha) delicately stamp, caper, lunge, squat and circle, their meticulous arm and hand gestures jangling the bangles on their wrists, the bells on their ankles chiming.

The solo "Running Out of Empty (Khala)" offers a more personal, and more melancholy, vision. The opening presents Mitha seated disconsolately on the floor, in purple gauze trousers, her head sunk forward. To the strains of a plaintive violin, she writhes slowly at ground level, sometimes grabbing fistfuls of hair as if in emotional agony. A subsequent sequence of standing and whirling -- agitated and elegiac -- leads to a shocking ending.

After that comparative downer, you're more than ready for "Face the Day (Uttho Jago)," the company's adorable, upbeat portrait of humdrum morning rituals. Dancers clad in pajama bottoms and silk camisoles mime -- in stylized, rhythmic fashion -- stretching, yawning, breakfasting and even brushing and flossing their teeth. (Gholkar, Ponnappan and Mitha are again the performers.) The score -- rock-flavored music by Alms for Shanti, mixed with more traditional sounds -- pulses with urgency.

The production continues through Sunday at the Harman Center for the Arts.

-- Celia Wren

Capital Fringe Festival, through Sunday at various sites across the city. For tickets, go to the Capital Fringe box office, 607 New York Ave. NW, or visit http://www.capfringe.org. Tickets can also be purchased at the door of a given show one hour before showtime.

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