Many national and international artists were in Sarasota to perform for thousands of anxious attendees who, just like me, were dying to experience the acclaimed Ringling International Arts Festival, celebrated from Oct. 10 to 13. This partnership between The Ringling Museum of Art and the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City has resulted in a very well-curated and exquisite showcase of talent.
India was well represented this year through the dance presentation of “Shiva Ganga” by Shantala Shivalingappa. The performance took its roots from the customs and religious heritage of Shantala’s motherland. Based in Paris, the show had its debut in 2004 and has since been seen around the globe. Here was my experience of the work as presented at RIAF …
The dark stage is slightly lit as I take my seat at the Historic Asolo Theater. Four men seated in lotus position with a variety of instruments can be seen at the far left of the stage. After we all take our seats, the voice of Shantala comes through the speakers; her voice tells us about the first movement we are about to see. As her speech intoxicates my ears, my eyes go directly to the shrine located at the right front end of the stage which, just like the musicians, never leaves the stage.
The first sight of Shantala is blurry even though my senses are awakened by the flute and percussion instruments. The lights slowly fill the stage and Shantala is seen wearing a luxurious Indian attire of red silks and gold embroidery. The cultural richness of India is translated through her jewels, an intricate headpiece, ankle bells and red ink on her feet and fingertips, setting the mood for what is going to be an evening of discovery through Shantala’s views on Indian dance, religion and heritage.
Her dance is captivating; her feet are perfect to the sound of every beat. Her ankle bells act as an instrument as her arms and hands explain the story without words.
Shantala’s voice starts the third movement, saying, “In India we say melody is the mother, and rhythm is the father of music.” And that is the shared link among the four musicians, who each have their own time to shine as Shantala leaves the stage to change costume and prepare for the rest of the performance. During vocal and percussion solos, the whole room feels the heart of each performer. Their talents are so unique and expertly executed that at the end of each performance, the entire theater raves with applause.
Shantala comes back to the stage, this time dressed in cobalt blue and deep purple, her hair in a long braid tuck behind her belt. She dances toward a metallic platter set at the front of the stage. Her feet rest on the platter’s edge, which seems to be very uncomfortable. Through the sensuous motion of her hips, she manipulates the platter to move her body around the stage. It’s quite a spectacle. The finishing act to her performance is exhilarating as she floats on a circle, covering the stage using only her knees.
I felt deep gratitude to have Shantala and her musicians share the spirit and magic of India through their performance. Their talents give me a palpable appreciation for their deep and alluring religious devotion. As I left the theater I could see the same feeling expressed by other smiling attendees who were fully enchanted and filled with excitement. I must say it was an evening never to be forgotten.