Abhinaya and ersatz musical chairs | Dance Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Abhinaya and ersatz musical chairs 

Two cultures confront each other in Pushed to the Edge

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Dancers from Mordine & Company (above) will come to the table with their counterparts from Natya Dance Theater.

Dancers from Mordine & Company (above) will come to the table with their counterparts from Natya Dance Theater.

Cheryl Mann

Indian classical dance meets contemporary modern movement in a new evening-length collaboration between the Natya and Mordine & Company dance theaters. But their piece, Pushed to the Edge, is no East-West fusion. Neither cynical nor sappy, it essentially explores the immigrant experience of "coming to the table," as Shirley Mordine put it at a recent rehearsal. And that can mean sharp competition. In an opening, ersatz game of musical chairs, the Natya and Mordine dancers—six of each—vie with one another for seats.

click to enlarge The aforementioned Natya dancers. - AMITAVA SARKAR

Yet choreographers Mordine and Hema Rajagopalan also show a profound appreciation of their differences. Mordine keeps her moves clean and freewheeling in counterpoint to the perpendicularity and detail characteristic of bharata natyam, the classical form that Natya practices. And Rajagopalan mines the abhinaya, or narrative, tradition to create a vivid solo about American cultural xenophobia. Chitrivina Ravikiran, who plays the sitar-like chitravina, and jazz saxophonist George Brooks have teamed up on a partly improvised score, which they'll play live with a percussionist. Jeff Hancock's flowing costumes are subtly different for each group, suggesting both separation and overlap.

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