Behind the Scenes: The influences of Namasya

By Columbus Alive
From the April 4, 2013 edition
  • Photos by Laurent Philippe

“Namasya” is the contemporary, 60-minute dance solo performed by famed Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa (Kuchipudi is a style of traditional Indian dancing). The performance is composed of four dance sequences, each representative of an important moment of Shivalingappa’s career.

Shivalingappa was born in India and raised in Paris. This confluence of cultures deeply affected her upbringing, but her dance training was mostly in her native country. In fact, her mother, Savitry Nair, has taught Indian dance in Europe since the 1970s.

It was through her mother that Shivalingappa learned Kuchipudi. It was also through her that Shivalingappa met Pina Bausch.

Bausch is a German pioneer of contemporary dance. While on a residency with Bausch’s company, Shivalingappa and Bausch created the piece “Solo,” performed second in the “Namasya” program. “Solo” combines the freeing form of contemporary dance with the storytelling and detailed footwork, nearly barefoot tap dancing, of Kuchipudi.

This dance was in Shivalingappa’s repertoire, as was a piece called “Ibuki (Vital Breath)” choreographed for her by Ushio Amagatsu, a Japanese dancer and force behind the Butoh dance group Sankai Juku. Butoh is a performance dance style of absurd, almost grotesque movement. Sankai Juku dancers are all men who perform covered in white body paint. It’s unique that the avant garde choreographer Amagatsu would make a piece for a female dancer of a traditional style. Again, “Ibuki” referenced contemporary and Indian dance sensibilities.

So, two important works, two very important choreographers. What to do with them?

“I thought it would be interesting to perform them together, to be the link between the very different idioms or language between the different choreographers,” Shivalingappa said.

But combining the dances was about more than the importance to the dance world. It was about the importance of the dances to Shivalingappa’s relationship to the art.

“It’s about this idea of paying homage,” Shivalingappa said. “Namasya means in homage to all these great choreographers.”

Adding a traditional solo choreographed for her by her mother, “Smarana,” to the evening just made sense, as did putting in a piece Shivalingappa choreographed for herself, “Shift.” The combination makes “Namasya” not just a study in dance styles absorbing into one another, but in the artistic journey of one of today’s most deft dancers.