YCBA stages Indian dance

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Indian history was the star of a performance by New York City-based Parul Shah Dance Company at the Yale Center for British Art Wednesday night.

Their performance, titled “The History of Unforgetting,” attracted a crowd of around 200 New Haven residents, Yale students and employees of the University. Conceived as a blend of contemporary and classical Indian dance, the choreography drew elements from the traditional Indian dance form called Kathak, said Jane Nowosadko, manager of programs at the British Art Center. “The History of Unforgetting” is a part of a larger project of the British Art Center dedicated to the exploration of how Indian society and culture developed under British rule, Nowosadko said.

Nowosadko said that Indian history and culture have a way of aesthetically engaging a contemporary audience and that she found the Parul Shah Dance Company’s style particularly bold and expressive. She added that while the spatial limitations of the British Art Center often make it challenging to stage dance performances at the museum, the piece performed by Parul Shah’s company works well with the architecture of their performance space.

Kathak dance derives its name from the Sanskrit word “katha,” or story: Wednesday’s performance narrated the life of a girl growing up in colonial India during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The girl “felt larger than the world around her,” dancer Mohip Joarder said during the performance. Oscillating between intensity and gracefulness, members of the company said that the Shah’s choreography aimed to use the expressive power of Indian dance to not only convey the story of this girl, but to also make it meaningful to a contemporary audience.

“The main goal of Kathak is not the creation of beautiful movements, but rather the achievement of a higher state of being,” Shah said in her address before the performance, adding that the dance’s progression, in terms of both movement and music, is supposed to follow her dancers’ journeys toward this higher state.

The influence of the contemporary was most noticeable in the music Shah chose for the performance, as the performers began dancing to traditional Indian music but ended the performance moving to Clint Mansell’s soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film “Requiem for a Dream.”

This dance performance is one of a number of events the British Art Center has organized recently to explore the era of British colonization in India. An exhibition focusing on works by Indian artist Gangaram Tambat, titled “Adapting the Eye: An Archive of the British in India, 1770-1830,” closed Dec. 31.

Nowosadko said she wanted to bring in a performance that would enhance the museum’s current display of works of artist Johan Zoffany, who worked in India during the British colonial period, “Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed.”

“Zoffany, having lived and worked in India, captured his observations of Indian court life in many of his portraits, paintings and landscapes,” Nowosadko said. She added that “The History of Unforgetting” is supposed to bring to life the history Zoffany painted.

Three members of the audience, which sent the dancers off to resounding applause, said they found the performance captivating.

Johanna Epperson, a New Haven resident, called the performance “lovely, hypnotic and resonating,” adding that she had never before seen a dance being performed with such emotion and intensity.

Jessica Tordoff ’15, one of the few Yale students who attended the performance, said she was fascinated by the theatricality of the performance and admired the dancers’ acting skills.

The Parul Shah Dance Company’s next performance is scheduled to take place on March 31 in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

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