Every culture has its creation myth and India's epic poem, the Mahabharata dates back about three millennia. At the heart of the tale is a dynastic war; since history is told by the victors, it can always be questioned with reference to which are the bad guys and which are the good guys.
A 20th c. scholar/anthropologist/educator, Irawati Karve, undertook to re-examine the story of Gandhari, the mother of 100 sons lost in battle. She was married off to a prince and felt betrayed when she learned that he was blind; she blindfolded herself for life. Karve re-interpreted the act as not a sacrifice but rather an act of rage. In the story, she gives birth to a stone that she hacks into 100 pieces and all of them were her sons.
Celebrated dancer/choreographer/writer/director Sanjukta Wagh created this award-winning piece "Rage and Beyond: Irawati's Gandhari" which was presented last night at Symphony Space as part of World Music Institute's "Dancing the Gods".
Ms. Wagh is an absorbing artist whose performance entranced us for the full hour and a half. Her dancing was eloquent. Every small gesture was replete with meaning. We particularly enjoyed and completely understood the part where she prepared for her wedding--washing, styling her hair, and applying cosmetics. After all those preparations, of course she was distressed that her husband could not see her!
The part in which she shows her pregnancy and delivery and the hacking up of the stone was similarly effective. We also liked the ending when she removes the blindfold, joins hands with the mother of the winning dynasty, and leads her blind husband into the mountains where they would all die in a forest fire.
Her chanting had a marvelous sound, especially when the syllables she chanted mimicked the sound of her stamping feet, which was augmented by the bells she wore around her ankles.
She also sat in a chair and related the words of Ms. Karve. We thought this interrupted the flow of the piece and might have been better presented in one chunk, either at the beginning or the end.
Obviously, there are socio-cultural and politico-historical aspects to the story which seemed academic and unnecessary. The piece could stand alone as dance/theater art, since Ms. Wagh is such a superb storyteller.
Musical accompaniment was performed by Hitesh Dhutia who also was responsible for the sound design. We had expected traditional Indian instruments--sitar, tabla, harmonium and such and were surprised that he played the guitar. The music was very lovely, even so, and sustained the mood perfectly. However, we did not care for the sound design which involved unattractive amplification both for his guitar and for Ms. Wagh's vocalizing.
In sum, we had a fascinating glimpse into another culture and an exposure to a work that left us feeling both enlightened and entertained.
(c) meche kroop