November. Thanksgiving. Well, Performing Diaspora was a thanksgiving feast of a sort, for sure. Dishes of quiet contemplative explosions and moments of mirth filled the platter, like when Sri did her nonplussed “boob dance” and her sexy “butt dance.” With her back to the audience, she cocked her head as if to say, “I see you, watching me, watching you.” There was Devendra’s utterly charming and engrossing nautanki play, Yannis’ virtuosic and athletic dance — one moment in particular took my breath away– when a duo did a few quick spins and landing in a seated crossed-leg position. There was Danica’s sinuous and fliratious dance with her superb musicians, Prom’s still and questioning beauty, and Adia’s army of seriously connected souls dancing, singing, playing, reaching and being! I didn’t get to see it all, but what a bounty, a cornucopia of parallel journeys, stories, political commentaries, nostalgia, beauty, and questions — all so very rich and reflective of the powerful and diverse voices we have in our traditional arts community. I can say that we put to rest the notion that traditional dance is stagnant or simply interpretive and lacks relevance to our complicated, contemporary urban lives. Performing Diaspora was a community of dancers who’s work and spiritual connection with that work filled CounterPulse with a plethora of food to feed the mind, body and soul.
Most of the year, we work tirelessly in our specific-genre communities: kathak communities, Indian communities, Classical Indian Dance communities, and sometimes the broader dance community. For me, PD was an opportunity in redefining community. We got to see each other over a period of time, dialogue, reflect, revisit, and learn about each other. We got to see where contemporary and Cambodian dance sit side by side, Kathak and Chicano dance — dance community, humanity community, community of voyagers. There was so much rich material on this platter — this November feast.
As I struggled to make my birds “fly” outside of the realm of traditional gat bhao in kathak. I asked, “How would it translate? Did I need to add a Persian poet to speak the words of the Sufi poem, Conference of the Birds? Should I add visual text, multi-media? The feedback was no, it stood on it’s own, the allegory of the birds seeking, soaring forth on their journey to define theirs lives. That’s what it’s about. Why do we do it? Struggle to create dances?
It’s necessary for survival –spiritual and emotional. finding meaning in our lives…. and the joy. How I came to illuminate the birds in this poem through the kathak tradition was something like this: I was flying back from NYC, reading Rumi on the plane, looking for a suitable poem. Nothing struck me. The passenger next to me commented, “I see you’re reading Rumi….” “Why, yes….” I explained that I was looking for inspiration to create a dance, but I didn’t want to do a traditional story as the music was going to be highly improvised. He (who happened to be Persian and a literature professor) suggested that I read Conference of the Birds, an allegory about the quest for self-realization. That’s how it started, serendipitously, by a stranger. The idea of the birds were flown. Then as quickly as they came to life, they disappeared. That is our dance, history. It’s the connections we make in between that form the path’s threads that tie us and propel us.
In this holiday season there is much to be celebrated. How fortunate I am to live the the San Francisco Bay Area with such a vast community of artists who believe in dance as transcendent power …..my own community. I am blessed to have such a community. I am blessed to have a remarkable Guru who encourages questions and exploration of the hard path, but most of all is a stellar example of how to live. Just a few weeks ago, at 65 years of age, he danced from midnight to 3 am to a rousing standing ovation of 3000 people in Bengal! What is that standing O? That’s an artist creating community. For a brief moment in time, bringing all those people together in a shared experience. It’s that one instance that an artist can spend his whole life — rekoning with the divine. For a brief 3 weeks we did that, redefining ethnic dance. redefining our lives! And we will go on doing that. I am blessed and Thankful that our food is dance and our feast was the work we created for Performing Diaspora. I thank everyone who worked on this project. The taste of it lingers as the sweat and effort dissapates!