The format of the upcoming Walking Distance Dance Festival-SF (WDDF-SF) gives viewers a chance to see astute pairings of artists whose work may at first appear to be stylistically and thematically different, but whose juxtaposition reveals similarities that may inform how you view each of them. Such is the case with the works of Garrett + Moulton Productions and Rachna Nivas of the Chitresh Das Dance Company. While the work of choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton is based on contemporary dance, Nivas’ choreography is rooted in Kathak, an Indian dance that incorporates spoken rhythm to intricate footwork and twirls. Yet, the work of both companies is embedded in a sophisticated exploration of the relationship between dance and music, and will feature live musicians at the WDDF-SF.
In a phone conversation, Nivas explained that the musical component is inherent to Kathak, where it’s “traditional [for the dancers] to interact with the musicians.” She notes that “as Kathak dancers, we are actually musicians with our body. That’s one thing we have in common with a tap dancer. We are percussionists. So in the interaction with the musicians, it’s not just between dance and music, but also between music and music.” (On a side note regarding the similarities between tap and Kathak, Nivas’ teacher, renowned Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das, often performs with Emmy-award winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith and also collaborates with flamenco dancer Antonio Hidalgo Pax in transporting feats of rhythm)
For Garrett and Moulton, the choice to bring live music to the stage comes from “a conscious decision to break out of using recording music and a commitment to work with musicians,” Garrett explains. “There’s nothing like it! There is a real oneness of these two art forms, dance and music. They are really a form. It is a creative necessity for us, in terms of where we want our work to live.” The original score of A Show of Hands –the piece that Garrett and Moulton are restaging for the WDDF-SF- is by composer Dan Becker and will be performed live by the Friction Quartet.
Beyond the common desire to commission and include live music on stage, other similarities are revealed when seeing the work of these artists in the same program. A Show of Hands is based on a series of 100 drawings of human hands by Moulton. The artists chose 24 of them to form the backdrop of the dance. Garrett then choreographed the piece based on the drawings. “[Charles’] interest had to do with the hands’ expressiveness, what they can reveal about our human experience. In the studio, we used the different states of expression that Charlie had proposed as a springboard for choreographic material,” Garrett mentions.
Hands are also a very important aspect of Indian dance, which highlights their expressivity, although, as Nivas explains, “out of the eight Indian classical dances, Kathak is the least complex with hands.” In Bhakti, the piece that Nivas will perform at WDDF-SF, hands serve, along with eyes, eyebrows, arms and feet, to illustrate excerpts from the life of Meerabai. This Indian princess lived in Rajasthan at a time of political unrest, when women were being kept behind closed doors. “Meerabai was a very unique being” Nivas states. “She rejected society’s norms and ignored her husband to pursue her love for the deity Krishna. She gained a lot of followers, which was unprecedented at this time, and although there were several attempts at her life, she managed to seek spiritual liberation from this world.”
Watching Garrett + Moulton Productions and Nivas’ works, we are invited to explore both the obvious and the more subtle ways music and movement intertwine, as well as the universality of experience that comes through the human body, whether it is trained in contemporary dance or in Kathak.