Support Local Journalism, Join the SA Current Press Club.

'From The Mahabharata' Makes South Asian Tale Come Alive 

click to enlarge COURTESY
  • Courtesy

In 1985, Peter Brook mounted a nine-hour stage production of the Mahabharata, the ancient foundational text for the cultures of South Asia that functions as kind of a cross between the Bible and the Odyssey. In 1989, PBS aired an abridgment of Brook's project, clocking in at six hours long.

In conceiving and directing his own adaptation of the 200,000-line Indian epic, Roberto Prestigiacomo wisely limited his ambitions. From The Mahabharata – The Great Dance-Off is, like Six Characters in Search of an Author and A Chorus Line, metatheater; it dramatizes how a talented troupe sets about translating the Sanskrit poem into dance.

Surrounded on three sides by the audience, the dancers, confined to a box-like space within the Tobin Center's Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater, start with warm-ups. A division soon becomes apparent. Some of the dancers favor the classical Bharatanatyam conventions of movement, whereas others prefer a looser contemporary style. Though selected episodes from the Mahabharata — including the extraordinary tale of how the five Pandava brothers are born and the section of the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna explains enlightenment to Arjuna — are narrated, most of the production is non-verbal, a matter of sight and sound rather than syntax.

The original music — performed and recorded by the SOLI Chamber Ensemble — by Reena Esmail borrows the percussive qualities of traditional Indian ragas, though the inclusion of a clarinet adds an occasional klezmer-like melancholy to the proceedings. Additional music was improvised by violinist Ananda Nadayogi and tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur. But the stars of the production are the dancers, whose exquisite gymnastic movements were choreographed by Kausi Subramaniam and Seme Jatib. The dance sequences — both Bharantanatyam and contemporary — are marvels of athleticism and grace.

After separate rehearsals for the proponents of classical and of contemporary dance, it all culminates in a face-off between the two, a grand terpsichorean battle of the bands. In an extended, bravura sequence, akin to jazz virtuosos alternating riffs, Bharantanatyam and contemporary dancers confront and compete with each other on stage. Call it a draw — both styles win.

From The Mahabharata – The Great Dance-Off

$18-$28, 8pm Thu-Sat, 2:30pm Sun, AtticRep, Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624 atticrep.org

Through June 14

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 6, 2021

View more issues

Newsletters

Join SA Current Newsletters

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

© 2021 San Antonio Current

Website powered by Foundation