Jenna Swift on Shantala Shivalingappa
Upon settling into the orange velvet seats of Theatre Junction, curator Nicole Mion signalledfor the attention of the audience, alerting us to the presence of “an artist not to be missed in our midst.” A palpable anticipation pre-figured the appearance of the performer herself - the sublime Shantala Shivalingappa. And so she materialized, a figure all in white. Languorous, in repose, the dancer/choreographer began her spellbinding performance of the program titled Namasya (Sanskrit, meaning homage or remembrance.) The humble form of the performer laid horizontal was a gentle introduction into the meditative series of movements which followed. The unfolding narrative presented body as landscape, dancer as supplicant, navigating the narrow dimensions of that precise space inhabited by each singular human between earth and sky. Using only the gestures issued from her compact frame, Shivalingappa was able to tell a story more expansive than the limits of the body. Pendulous arms and an inherent symmetry anchored the performance, alternating between tension and release. Rounded forms contrasted with near right angles - elbows, wrists, knees hinging; fingers and toes - each digit - pulsing. The subtle variation from a palm turned upward to one turned down, dictating the powerful difference between a receptive spirit and a closed one. So flowed each gesture, a study in duality - offering/ withholding, extending/withdrawing. Arms tracked what appeared to be the diurnal passage of the sun. Index finger and thumb made contact as if pressing a single seed between them. Hands carved the furrows of a field, next they were quick as birds. Body, once laid fallow, was substituted for the undulating vertical ascension of stems. A multitude of metaphors showering down: hands as chimes, birds, precipitation... Shivalingappa’s movements appear to be guided by an innate internal impulse, as natural and cyclical as changes in the weather but no less thrilling. Through her restrained motions the artist illuminated once more that power does not have to be forceful, it can be controlled, expressed as a conscious stillness, a contained dynamism. Shantala Shivalingappa’s performance illustrates the magical conversion when inner knowledge is able to transcend the boundaries of the body to find outward expression understood by another - the particular alchemy attainable between artist and audience.