Natya Dance Theatre | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Natya Dance Theatre 

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For a bharata natyam dancer to hold her leg high is as shocking to an Eastern classicist as a ballet dancer standing on her head would be to a Western traditionalist. That's partly the result of the Indian form's complicated history: though it's derived from a 3,000-year-old treatise, the Natya Shastra, it's been widely practiced only in the last few centuries--and onstage only since the 1930s--as an expression of national pride in response to colonial rule. So the form carries a lot of baggage, but at the same time its ancient sources--not just the written instructions of the Natya Shastra but the temple carvings called karanas--are open to a wide range of interpretation. Natya Dance Theatre artistic director Hema Rajagopalan would like to expand the universe of the art form she's been practicing since she was a child in India, and thanks to a grant from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum she was able to travel there and to Indonesia earlier this year to study it further. She argues that the traditional bharata natyam style--which is precise, geometrical, grounded, and percussive--is the result of trying to translate what are basically poses into movements within the restricted space available to dancers in the temples. The fruit of her research is a work called Inside/Outside, based on a scriptural story about enlightenment and featuring a personification of humankind danced by her accomplished daughter, Krithika. Inside/Outside incorporates Rajagopalan's new vocabulary, which has the lofted quality and fluidity of modern dance. Also on the program, called "Yatra: The Journey," are pieces from the repertoire in the more traditional style: excerpts from Ahimsa: The Path Toward Nonviolence and from Shakti Chakra (The Energy Cycle). a 9/25-26: Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium, 400 S. State, 312-212-1240, $15-$20.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eileen Ryan Photography.

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