archive review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 August 2010

Bharatanatyam is a classical Indian dance originating in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It is said to have evolved from performances made in the presence of Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity known as the destroyer, and his consort, the goddess Parvati. The dance evokes the masculine and feminine energies of the divine couple.

The subjects addressed in performance vary from interpretations of legendary battles to tales of unrequited love, but in Duality, performer and choreographer Sulochana Sarma focuses on the dual nature of the Bharantanatyam, exploring the figure of Ardhanarishwara, the androgynous deity who is half Shiva, half Parvati.

Wearing a simple sari but bedecked with floral garlands, elaborate gold jewellery and jangling bracelets and bells on her henna-covered hands and feet, Sarma moves with grace and precision. The dance involves her entire body, the focus shifting between larger movements of her limbs to subtle changes to the position of her fingers and feet. Facial expressions are crucial in Bharantantyam and Sarma is an accomplished actress, using her mouth, eyes and eyebrows to great effect to present different characters or emotions.

For an uninformed audience, however, an hour is a long time, even taking into account the pauses between dances and the explanatory introductions via voice over. Those without a considerable level of background knowledge will miss much of the subtlety of this intricate art form. Sarma also trips up in using recorded music. Having live musicians on stage, as is usual in Indian performance, might have added the vitality that Duality sadly lacks.