Notes from the world of dance: the art of performance at The Ringling

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble and Flamenco program enthrall audiences

Performers with the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble are featured in a program at The Ringling. Photo courtesy of The Ringling

As The Ringlng’s Art of Performance series unwraps its menu of tantalizing performances, I have been lucky enough to have been treated to a mesmerizing evening of East Indian dance by the Nrityagram DanceEnsemble, a stunning, all female company of dancers from Bangalore, India; and have been caught up in the intense emotion of an electrifying evening of Flamenco dance by Rafael Peral and Marisa Adame in Raiz de 4.

I know that, in general, there is a popular belief that dance and classical ballet are one and the same. Then there are other people, like myself, who are intrigued by the interaction of history, culture and the uniqueness of a culture’s artistic expression — in this instance, the art of dance. Fortunately, for this series at The Ringling, the sold-out performances point to enough interested aficionados to ensure the continuation of this programming in the future.

I was introduced to East Indian dance when Erik Hawkins, my teacher for the Saturday afternoon classes for young people at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, suggested that studying Indian dance would strengthen my long, thin arms. Today, the suggestion would be to go to a gym, but that was another century and a long time ago.

Then, I found a class at the New Dance Group Studio, and I became fascinated by the rhythms, the stories, the homemade saris and the discipline of what I understood to be Indian dance. Though I no longer study it, I have continued to enjoy watching Indian dance performances whenever there is an opportunity and, of course, was overjoyed when I saw the planned program for The Art of Performance.

Over time, I have also learned there are different dance styles and traditions of Indian dance, though they all share a connection to ancient historical and religious stories.

Using the vocabulary of the ancient Odissi tradition handed down for centuries, the five young dancers of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble retold the stories of the ancient prayers, accompanied by a group of four musicians. The repetitious rhythmic beats of the bamboo flute, along with the harmonium drum, the bells on the dancers’ ankles and the voices of Jateen Sahu and Surua Sen, added to the hypnotic, dream-like vision of the dancers — clad in brightly colored silk dhoti pants and gold trimmed tops — as they floated around the stage. Their hips were swaying and arms softly curling above their constantly nodding heads, bringing to mind a group of fluttering butterflies.

The sensuous Odissi tradition, practiced by the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, is said to go as far back as 200 B.C. As many of the dancers’ poses resemble the sculptures found on ancient Hindu temples, that is easy to believe.

Next on my list of performances was an intimate evening of Flamenco with Rafael Peral and Marisa Adame, two celebrated Flamenco dancers from Spain, and their small group of accompanying musicians: a percussionist whose instrument appeared to be a big box; a guitarist; and two powerful singers. I had recently seen the documentary film about Flamenco by the Spanish director Carlos Saura. As the curtain opened to the sight of four seated men — one a guitarist, one pounding on what looked like a box, and two singers — I had the feeling that these performers had stepped off of the screen and onto the stage.

The program listed only the name of each selection and the Spanish term for the dance; that was it — no explanations, just a list: Bamberas-Romances; Zapateodo; Alegrias; Martinete; Solea;and Bulerias.But the nonchalance and informality of the scene created an atmosphere closer to that of a café in the Barcelona of the performers’ Casa Patas Flamenco Foundation and Conservatory, than to a stage in a small theater in Sarasota.

Rafael Peral and Marisa Adame perform at The Ringling. Photo courtesy of The Ringling

Peral’s rapid-fire footwork and his timing, with bursts of energy stopping for an instant and then his resumption of the intricate, rhythmic Flamenco patterns, were brilliant.

Marisa Adame, Peral’s partner, equaled his brilliance and his proud demeanor. There was a moment when she appeared out of the shadows in a billowing gown with a long train floating behind her as if she were a mermaid. Constantly, quickly, she would push this extra fabric around as if it were a prickly plant: It was a gesture needing an incredible sense of timing to keep the audience’s attention.

I am always impressed by the Flamenco vocabulary of subtle timing, quick and fierce footwork, and the proud upper body posture in contrast to the soft arm and hand-curving gestures. But the emotional impact, for me, always rests in the deep, sad, minor-key plaintive accompaniment of the singers. In this performance, there were two men: Trini de la Isla and Jose El Calli.

My next ticket is for a monologue by a Mexican man living and working on the border in Tijuana, with a scheduled panel discussion the following day. It should be interesting and provocative.