From Sublime to Divine is the journey of two women – Lisa Santhanam and Nazanin (Nazy) Baygani – as they learn Odissi, one of the classical dance forms of India. It’s an autobiographical tale that begins with the sparks that ignited their passions: for Nazy it was a picture of another classical Indian dance, Bharatanatyam, and the dancer’s ornate costumes which led to pursue classes in Odissi. For Lisa it was learning Belly dancing, that led her to Bollywood dance classes, and then Odissi.
They chronicle their quest using mostly voice-overs and choreographed scenes: they fly to India to learn from gurus, then show us their solos, and close with a duet. It is clear that they are dedicated to and passionate about their dancing, but still honing their craft; the show feels more like a student recital than a refined offering.
Presented by Konark Dance School, where the two performers are students of the school’s founder, Jayantee Paine-Ganguly, From Sublime to Divine opens with an invocation (Mangalacharan), then the scene in India where they practice Batu, meaning Foundation, although they are fatigued by the sweltering heat. In the next two sections, there are solos by each dancer.
Lisa and Nazy are intriguing to watch because they seem to excel in and enjoy different elements of the dance form: Lisa prefers Pallavi which showcases the dancer’s ability in pure dance; the word literally means blossoming and refers to the solo’s progression from slower tempo to faster patterns and greater complexity. Nazy likes the expressive roles and her solo, Abhinaya, means story-telling. The last section of the performance was a duet called Moksha, meaning spiritual liberation.
Odissi is a gorgeous form: it intertwines pure dance (nritta) with emotional elements, merging perfectly technique and expression. The legs of the dancer provide acoustic as well as visual patterns as the feet stamp and pitter-patter rhythms. The arms, eyes and hands express specific feelings, with precise positions for each finger and eyebrow. The gestures, or mudras, function like a sign language: shapes convey specific words and phrases. Bharatanatyam has a similar use of hand gestures, but in Odissi the dancers’ torsos sway in a snake-like pattern: as the performer bends her legs, she rests her weight to one hip. This gives the Odissi dancer a beautifully curvaceous look, also known as tribhangi (literally: three parts break) or independent movement of the dancer’s head, chest and pelvis.
Two elements of this performance were particularly fascinating: the specificity of eye, hand and foot patterns, and the differences in their interpretations. During their duets, when side-by-side they did the same movements, it was terrific to see how dissimilarly two bodies can interpret movement patterns. Doing the same action they conveyed different images and impressions, which made their dancing a reflection of the beauty of diversity.
The show dragged a little when scenes became literal and obvious: the women traveled to India and lay on the stage to show how they slept and were bitten by critters. When they spoke to each other directly rather than using a voice over, it was nearly impossible to hear what they were saying.
They excelled in the choreographed sections, and it was clever to end with a duet that began with the song “Jai Ho” from the film “Slumdog Millionaire.” Many forms of dance and music from India have been integrated into popular culture, but here it was refreshing to see a show that honors the roots of these crazes and presents Odissi with integrity and investment.
From Sublime to Divine
created by Konark Dance School
performed by Nazanin Baygani and Lisa Santhanam
reviewed by Kate Mattingly
running time: 55 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?