Grafting modern to ancient | Performing Arts Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Grafting modern to ancient 

A hybrid takes in Natya Dance Theatre's The Flowering Tree

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You may feel as if you know the narratives used in traditional Indian bharata natyam even when you don't. Magic and moral are as crucial to them as they are to Western fairy tales and parables. Natya Dance Theatre adds some modern twists, though, in The Flowering Tree, a new 80-minute performance based on a folktale about a poor young woman, Kumudha, who has the power to turn herself into a tree. As choreographed by the mother-and-daughter team of Hema and Krithika Rajagopalan, the piece is both green and feminist. And unlike the 2006 John Adams/Peter Sellars opera, it has a woman narrator. Her speeches (in both Hindi and English) and the dancing are set to Rajkumar Bharathi's original recorded score combining Indian music with jazz and Japanese and African drumming. But The Flowering Tree is extraordinary less for its modernity than for its ancient elements. The percussive, abstract dances are stirring, a marketplace scene is wonderfully vibrant thanks to mime, and Priya Nelson demonstrates her mastery of the form's stylized facial expressions as Kumudha.

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