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Explorations and Curiosities

A Delicate Power

January-February 2015

Shantala Shivalingappa performs at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art in February.

Shantala Shivalingappa performs at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art in February.

Courtesy of ICA

Born in India and raised in Paris, Shantala Shivalingappa is among the world’s best practitioners of Kuchipudi, a classical narrative dance from South India rarely performed in Boston. “It is so complete,” she says of the form. “It has force and grace, strength and fluidity, rhythm and melody, speed and stillness.” She adds, “What is difficult is bringing all this together in a good balance and doing justice to each.” She performs this feat throughout Akasha (the Sanskrit word means “sky” or “space”), her five-part solo program. “Inconceivable by mind, imperceptible to senses, it pervades, as well as holds and contains, all that exists,” she notes. It is a “dreamscape” that generates “the music and movement of the piece.” On stage, Shivalingappa takes the audience on a transformative trip to meet Hindu gods, embodying the wild range of these primordial beings with a superhuman precision. Every movement, from the tilt of her toes to the dart of an eye, demands delicacy, even as she squats, jumps, and swivels as the fearsome Shiva, her favorite deity. Four musicians accompany Shivalingappa, and sometimes she sings. Yet her freeze-frame shapes resonate more deeply. The idea, she says, is to move viewers beyond mere understanding—to “touch their hearts and leave them with a flow.” She hopes for “a privileged moment of sharing of that intense energy and emotion that are intrinsic to this style…to create something that takes you out of yourself, and lets you feel, for a moment, greater and lighter, and a sense of togetherness, of ‘oneness.’ ”

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