DanceWatch Weekly: Classical Indian dance on eclipse weekend

Sweta Ravisankar and Subashini Ganesan bring classical Indian dance to the city

This weekend, Portland is graced with two classical Indian dance performances, the closing performances of the musical Gypsy, and a three-day event with dance company I Moving Lab.

Between the barrage of news, the major cultural shifts happening, and the constant political upheaval, I am comforted and inspired by the artists in our midst. Despite any bumps in the road they may encounter, they persist.

This week I am particularly inspired by Sweta Ravisankar, a Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam performer, teacher, and choreographer, from Mumbai, India. I first saw her perform in Jayanti Raman’s Anubhava at Lincoln Hall in 2015. Ravisankar is a striking performer and a pleasure to watch.

Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam performer Sweta Ravisankar. Photo courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.

Not only is Ravisankar a dancer/teacher/choreographer/musician, she is also pursuing her Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology at OHSU, holds a Master’s Degree in Bharatanatyam and Biology, maintains dance schools (Sarada Kala Nilayam) in San Jose, California, and Hillsboro, Oregon, and travels the world performing. If ever you needed inspiration to follow your various passions in life, Ravisankar is it!

For those who don’t know, Bharatanatyam is the name of a style of South Indian classical dance. Nattuvangam is the rhythmic instrument played in the background of Bharatanatyam performances and is made of two metal cymbals—one of iron and the other of brass.

Ravisankar will be presenting Laya Bhavam: An Amalgamation of Rhythm in Dance and Percussion at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Auditorium, this Saturday evening at 6 pm. The performance is in collaboration with her musician father, Sri. S Ravisankar, who will accompany the performance on mridangam (a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum) alongside a full Indian orchestra. Additionally, her father heads a bhajan group, Sukrutha Brahmam Bhajan Mandali, based in Mumbai, India, that toured throughout the U.S. last spring.

In discussing the performance concept, through an email exchange, Ravisankar said, “Layam, as we all know, is the rhythm. Bhavam represents the emotions created. Both of these together, let us experience and appreciate how the rhythm is so seamlessly integrated in all the things around us. Both Layam and Bhavam complement each other as brain and heart.”

Ravisankar attributes her success in both careers to the support of her family and teachers who all work together to make her “dance journey” happen. Her father accompanies her musically, her mother manages all of her programs, and her sister hosts and introduces her at each performance. It was at her mother’s insistence that her father begin playing for her Bharatanatyam concerts, having previously only accompanied singers.

This father-daughter relationship inspires Ravisankar’s work. She likens their creative back-and-forth process together like that of “making a pot in the ancient times. You keep adding water and shaping the pot better and better ‘til it is complete.”

Performances this week

Photo of dancer Deanna Olsen White with Kelly Sina observing, in Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of Gypsy. Photo by Sam Ortega.

Broadway Rose Theatre Company
August 3-20
Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard
Closing this weekend is Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of Gypsy, directed and choreographed by late great American choreographer Jerome Robbins, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The musical is loosely based on the memoirs of the American queen of striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee, and the aspirations of her stage mamma from hell.

Although Gypsy is not a dance-centric show, Robbins carefully re-created accurate depictions of the era’s vaudeville and burlesque dance styles for famous scenes such as “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” when three strippers tell Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee) that she doesn’t actually need talent, just an idea.

Laya-Bhavam: An Amalgamation of Rhythm in Dance and Percussion
Presented by Sarada Kala Nilayam/Sweta Ravisankar
6 pm August 19
Portland Community College Rock Creek Auditorium, 17705 NW Springville Road
See above

Photo courtesy of I Moving Lab.

NA’LÅ’LA (Give Life)
Dåkot-ta and I Moving Lab
6:00 pm August 19
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St., in the WYSE Building. Use the doors located on the South side of the building.

Celebrating the coming eclipse through music and dance, contemporary Māori choreographer and scholar Jack Gray, in collaboration with hip hop dancer, sound artist, and scholar Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho will present I LAND (in) Multnomah, an interdisciplinary performance that weaves their ancestral lineages from Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Guåhan, Guam, with rap, dance, and video.

Interested in decolonizing theater practices and drawing on indigenous relationships with the natural world, I LAND (in) Multnomah is a three-day series that begins Thursday, August 17, with a potluck, dance/movement workshops indoors and outdoors on the 18, and a final performance on the evening of the 19. Check out the I LAND (in) Multnomah website for the full schedule of events and please RSVP.

Classical Indian Dance & Music at the Portland Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Subashini Ganesan.

Classical Indian Dance & Music at the Portland Art Museum
Program curated by Subashini Ganesan, artistic director of New Expressive Works and Natya Leela Academy
2 pm August 20
Portland Art Museum, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Avenue
FREE as part of the Miller Family Free Day

In celebration of the classical Indian Arts—dance, music, painting, and poetry—and in honor of Northwest architect and conservationist John Yeon’s collection of Indian Paintings at the Portland Art Museum, vocalist Mini Jairaj, mridangam player Hari, and dancers from Natya Leela Academy, Anjali School of Dance, Nartana Kuchipudi, and Kalabharathi School of Dance will contextualize Indian art through performance, as part of the Miller Family Free Day events.

Coming up next week

August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil
August 25-September 3, Where To Wear What Hat, WolfBird Dance

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