East meets West
A visual-art exhibit on new work from India prompts a cross-cultural hookup.
Arranged marriages may be a hot topic among young Indians: They’d prefer to take on Western matchup styles than have their parents tell them whom to wed. But in the Indian dance community, a different kind of matchmaking is going on, thanks to the Chicago performing-arts world—and the couples intend to last only a few weeks, not till death. A major broker of these creative partnerships is the Chicago Cultural Center, which presents Bam!galore—a joint creation of two dance companies—on Tuesday 14. The program includes a collaboration between the Bharatanatyam troupe Kalapriya Dance, from the East, and tap-dance ensemble BAM! from here in the Midwest.
Cynthia Quick, director of program development for the Department of Cultural Affairs, spoke to us from her office at the Chicago Cultural Center. “I try to bring artists together who might not otherwise collaborate,” she says.
In conjunction with the visual-arts exhibit “New Narratives: Contemporary Art from India,” which opened July 21 in two of the Cultural Center’s large galleries, Quick was asked by chief curator Gregory Knight to come up with a dance performance that reflected the ethos of the art. “The ‘New Narratives’ exhibit has been several years in the making,” Quick says. “With major exhibits like this, all the divisions within the department try to pitch in.” One of the associated events is the bhangra dance lesson taking place August 16 at the popular SummerDance live music and dancing event in Grant Park.
But on Tuesday you’re invited to watch professionals do the dancing. The Kalapriya troupe, led by Pranita Jain, focuses on the highly systematized and traditional Indian art of Bharatanatyam—a type of dance in which even the eyes and fingers have specific choreography. Dancers in Jain’s company also have experience in non-Indian forms, such as hip-hop and jazz dance. Not to mention, two of the Kalapriya members have tap-dance training, which comes in handy in rehearsals with BAM!, the ensemble led by Lane Alexander, Chicago’s leading tap-dance advocate.
Alexander is recognized for his prowess as a dancer as well as his inclusive vision of percussive dance. In addition to being artistic director of BAM!, he is the founder of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which just completed a major summer festival on the campus of Northwestern University, honoring masters of tap and percussive dance.
“[The collaboration] is exciting,” Jain tells us by phone between teaching classes. “I’m learning, widening my horizons.”
Both Bharatanatyam and American tap dance are highly rhythmic forms, and it’s on this level that the two companies find common ground in rehearsal. However, Jain says that all the Indian work is in rhythms of three beats per measure, while the tap-dance style is more often in phrases of four. “We [Bharatanatyam dancers] also have larger, more lyrical body movements [than the tap dancers],” she says. “We’re trying to figure it out.”
In addition to learning new approaches from each other, the dance artists visit the galleries to look at the art and gain inspiration from the paintings, photographs and sculptures there. These pieces express the vitality of contemporary India, while also drawing on the centuries-old traditions of that part of the world.
In fact, some of the Bam!galore dance event will take place within the gallery, in direct proximity to the “New Narratives” exhibit; then, the event proceeds to the Claudia Cassidy Theater. And as far as matchmaking goes, it’s an arrangement with which both parties are more than pleased.
Bam!galore is at the Chicago Cultural Center on Tuesday 14.