One of the most fascinating dance events in recent years is Exterior Presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015 by the Nrityagram Dance Company of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The majesty of the Dendur temple is matched in the moving sculptures of dancers Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen.Now Satpathy is back, this time herself MetLiveArts Artist-in-Residence, performed in galleries around the museum this past weekend and next weekend. The carnival is back.
In the series titled “Sima” or “Thresholds”, Satpathy stretches her explore alone Classical Odissi style, pushing its boundaries in response to the art around her, which she did in collaboration with composer Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy. Satpathy offers two short films (under 15 minutes each) in two galleries on Saturday and Sunday, each incredible and very different from each other.
“Taru,” which means “tree,” in Sanskrit, takes place in an Islamic gallery where carpets hang from ornate Spanish ceilings. The score recorded by Narayanaswamy has an Iberian theme, translating Hindustani form of tarana into classical guitar. Satpathy seems to be mainly inspired by Islamic pattern making, fractals and tree shapes.
One of the glory of the Odissi style practiced by Nrityagram is how its sinuous poses, deep bends and curves are sculptural rather than static. Every moment is a perfect picture, but just when you think the shape is done, it stretches, bends, deepens. Near the beginning of “Taru,” Satpathy’s eyes turn their attention to her hands, each open like a blooming flower, one overlapping a rising pattern that seems to pull one of her legs to the On the opposite knee, a balancing pose that becomes more intense as she leans back.
Satpathy uses it as a principle for choreography. She repeats the steps for one circle, then adds circles to her torso or head, then twists the circles inside the circles into a spiral. The result is a sense of fluidity, a long-form progression of repeated numbers.
This is especially true when the music becomes rhythmic, and she marks this as the metronome’s loop churning, slapping the floor with bare feet, adding jumps at the end of phrases that aren’t exclamation marks but breaths. She circles the diagonal and returns to the ring at the end, spinning to the back corner.
“Antaranga” – set in front of a modern and contemporary gallery Sam Gilliam’s hanging painting “The Carousel State” —Very modern, Satpathy walked in like any other museum visitor, dressed in modern clothes and without the customary bells on his ankles. Yet it is also ancient, as in Narayanaswamy’s random percussion and moan score there is an ancient Greek recitation (Niti Bagchi) of Sappho’s Fragment 31.
That poem is about the flesh of erotic torture: the quivering heart, the fire on the skin, the buzzing in the ear, the trembling all over. That’s what Satpathy embodies – now caressing the floor lazily, now twisting herself into knots. What started out as hands holding her head – that ancient and modern image of pain – then swirled around each other like bodies attracted to each other and shook to activate the flames.
Deepening is here too, when she puts her arms in a ring, clasps her fingers and stretches them behind her head – then starts the pose, spinning on her knees. (As she turns her back to her face, her arms cover her face, and love eclipses itself.) But these progressions are more dramatic, following the emotions of a woman contemplating love, holding it in her hands, and then Fight it, dashing with a hand bent in front, balanced and elongated like a bow, and retracted quickly like a matador.
Satpathy ends up looking at “Merry-Go-Round State,” as if the dance is her character’s response to the art, the memories and emotions it stirs in her mind. “Antaranga” and “Taru” are the reactions of this superlative dancer and choreographer to the stimuli of the metropolis, her art being elevated by the museum and vice versa.
So sadly, both performances seem to have been arranged more for the cameras recording the dance than for museum visitors huddled around the cameras to experience it live. In September, Satpathy will perform in the museum’s theatre, but if you choose to go on a Saturday, arrive early for a chance to be in a good spot.
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Saturday; metmuseum.org.