NYC'S SANS LIMITES HOUSES INDIAN CONTEMPORARY & CLASSICS
BY. KRISTEN HEDBERG
Sans Limites Movement Fest / Program D
Hudson Guild Theatre
Sunday, November 19th 2017 at 2:00pm
By Kristen Hedberg
Program D of the Sans Limites Movement Festival featured Indian dances by two noteworthy choreographers; Ainesh Madan and Barkha Patel.
Ainesh Madan’s contemporary solo “PHANTASIES” alluded to daily social injustices. Barkha Patel presented “Embrace of Passion,” a two-part dance of joy and power, featuring herself and three classically trained Kathak dancers.
“PHANTASIES” opened the matinee. Ainesh immediately challenged the audience to meet him halfway as he called attention to daily struggles – broken tools, spilling your guts, losing your possessions, and yearning to understand why society operates the way it does when so many people are still suffering.
His solo began with him standing defiantly on the downstage left diagonal, opposite two black, broken umbrellas. One umbrella lay wide and open, the other bounded shut. Ainesh hurled a whirlwind of gestural material with his fingers and elbows; though he danced urgently, his gestures read. He articulated his fingers like desperate spiders; he swirled his elbows like he was tossing off a long day; he punched the air in front of him with his hands balled into fists. This urgency was evident throughout his solo. Though abstract, Ainesh’s gestures accentuated his desire to challenge an opposing force: perhaps the government.
The black, broken umbrellas drew my curiosity. And so did a moment not even five minutes into the solo, where Ainesh spilled a pocketful of change all over the downstage left corner. He did not bother to pick up the coins- instead, the stage blacked out and Ainesh swooped towards center stage. Larger, sweeping contemporary dance forms took place as Ainesh cartwheeled, rolled, swung his legs in large battements, crawled, ran, turned, and lunged. His energy surged. Even the music, which was loud from the get go, swelled with his movement. A vocalist became audible, expressing tones of anguish as Ainesh’s dancing reached climax.
Ainesh was unafraid to direct the audience towards his “struggles” and “nods to daily social injustices.” At his solo’s conclusion, he raised his arms above his head in a slower, larger variation of his opening gestures. Two audience members raised their arms in response to his call. Ainesh proceeded to pile the abandoned coins into one of his socks, which he had removed, and handed the sack of change to the audience members. He also handed one of the umbrellas to an audience member seated in the downstage right portion of the house.
Spilling, and then giving away, coins? Relinquishing a broken umbrella? Was Ainesh trying to turn away damaged goods? Is this all he feels he can give back to society? As the solo closed, I could not help but feel that there was more to the broken umbrellas than pieces littering the stage.
Two pieces later, Barka Patel’s “Embrace of Passion” jubilantly lit the stage. Barka, accompanied by three other Classical Kathak dancers, aimed to “commune with the divine and share that same divine energy with everyone.” Barka danced solo in the first of two sections in “Embrace of Passion,” as she captivated her audience with her musicality, grace, and poise. She effortlessly breezed and stomped through the space, as if the stage were a tamed lion. Memorable was the way Barka whipped around herself, producing outstanding turns that kept coming and coming. Her musicality, focus, and spotting was shocking and tremendous.
The second section highlighted Barka Patel and her three remaining dancers. They continued the fluidity and positive energy that Barka had introduced in her opening solo. The women directed their divine energy with their five fingers; grand gungroos (musical anklets); swirling skirts; elated eyebrows; commanding claps; and sensational smiles. The stage lighting remained bright, highlighting each gesture and grin. Their musical anklets accentuated each rhythm of the music – their sophisticated footwork was visible to the audience.
The Sans Limites Movement Festival unknowingly curated these two Indian choreographers within the same program. What if their entire Program D were made of Indian choreographers – both classical and contemporary? It is curious to compare the development of the finger articulations, musicality, use of the space, and facial expressions. Though Ainesh and Barka presented vastly different ideas (one dark, one light), it was evident that both drew from their mother tongue to achieve clear themes.
Ainesh Madan graciously shared his personal dance experience from India - where he artistically stands now - and where he would like to see Indian dance go next.
TiLLT: Where did you begin your dance training in India?
AM: I began my formal training at the Shiamak Davar's Institute for the Performing Arts in Bangalore, India. I started taking classes as part of their summer intensive, and then eventually got selected to be part of the "Special Potential Batch." I studied there for about two years.
TiLLT: How would you describe dance in India now versus when you were growing up?
AM: Dance had a very limited definition for me as a teenager. There was contemporary dance, and then there were the classical forms. In my recent visits, however, I have begun to discover the presence of individualistic practices. I think this is a result of American modern dance's influence on the rest of the world. People who only knew about Bollywood, Hip-Hop, and Bharatanatyam now also know about Graham, Horton, and Cunningham.
TiLLT: What was your major form of creative inspiration?
AM:As a performer, I drew a lot inspiration from popular culture. I was one of those kids that idolized Michael Jackson. My parents wanted me to be a role model student, and my teachers saw potential, so I was constantly made to be on stage. A lot of times it was competitive, and that spirit often spurred me on. The only thing I never got any leverage in was sports. My father was a national level sportsman, and although he never admits it, I think he is still slightly disappointed by my lack of sporting success.
TiLLT: What do you wish for or envision for the coming future of dance in India?
AM: I think my wish for the future of dance in India is the same as my wish for India in general: better institutional education. More reputed colleges need to introduce dance programs as part of their curriculum, and more quality dance centers need to open up. There is a lot of learning happening in ways that you cannot cultivate in schools. But that doesn't change the fact that the country still needs more schools that employ credible teachers.
TiLLT: How were you able to begin taking your dance practice on an international level?
AM: I was very fortunate. I received a full-tuition ride to Bard College, where I studied Dance and Economics. My opinion is biased, but I do think Bard is an incredible place for cultivating one's practice. It is where I began to look at dance from a macro, international perspective.
TiLLT: What was your “big break?”
AM: Hopefully, it is still to come. I was recently selected for the Work Up residency at Gibney Dance, which is exciting. It's always nice to get paid, and receive free rehearsal space, to present your own work.
TiLLT: What inspires your work and practice?
AM: It was Jean-Michel Basquiat who said this (and I am paraphrasing): "I don't do art, I do life." I keep coming back to that idea. Maybe it is the economist in me…but I constantly draw inspiration from people's daily struggles. What I am listening to, and reading, strongly affects my music and dance composition practices.
Ainesh Madan is a New York based artist, native of India. His choreographic work has been presented at the Judson Memorial Church, Center for Performance Research, Alliance Francaise (Bangalore), and various other venues internationally. Ainesh is currently dancing for Pramila Vasudevan, Bryce Dance Co, and Deirdre Towers. He is scheduled to work with RoseAnne Spradlin in 2018.
As a working choreographer and dancer, Ainesh interns at dance/NYC for their Immigrant Artist Initiative, works Front of House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and teaches yoga in New York City schools as part of the FLY Yoga Arts Program. He is a recipient of the 2016 DanceWEB Scholarship.
Ainesh is a self-taught electronic musician, and scores his own work.