Courtesy of Indique Dance Company.

Theater & Dance

Indique Brings Ancient Traditional Indian Dance to the Elevator Project

An elaborate artform, rebooted, bridges modern and classical.

Tonight through Saturday, Dallas-based Indique Dance Company will come to the Winspear stage with their performance SvaBhava.

Bharatanatyam is an Indian classical dance form that has roots in the Hindu temples of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The word svabhava is a Sanskrit term that relates to the essential nature of beings. “This is very much relatable to everybody,” says long-time Indique group member Shilpi Mehta, of the title they chose for the first work they will perform under the aegis of the Elevator Project, the collaborative umbrella project that funds small or emerging art groups.

Over the course of the 90-minute work, performed without intermission, the dancers of Indique will outline a series of stories, touching on subjects of conflict and renewal. “We look at the process of human change: Are we born with our true nature? Or is it our life experiences that shape our true nature?” Mehta asks. These are the questions posed by SvaBhava.

Nine years ago, in 2008, the nine dancers who formed the core of a dance company that has experienced flux in its roster, but stayed true to its spirit of camaraderie and the scope of its mission, met to rehearse a dance form that they practiced or taught. Some had lived in India and studied under masters or their students; others had trained in the U.S. From a spark, a collective idea, someone for each piece will take a choreography lead.

“We came together around love of this art form,” Mehta says. “We wanted to make it more relatable.”

The dance form is known for its complexity. Arms, legs, and torsos describe arcs and contrapposto balances; sometimes the group gathers to form a shape like a multi-limbed deity. Costumes, stitched in India, are traditional, lavish silks with gold thread: movements are accented by the visual accents of anklets and bracelets and ornate fabrics draped and gathered over loose pants that allow the dancers to move. It’s always the facial and hand gestures that tell a story rather than words. In the intricate tradition, mudras (hand gestures) are pregnant with connotation. A hand extended, palm and fingers forming a flat plane (known as pataka), can mean distress or unwillingness to listen when held up to the ear. Straight out, it means “Stop!”

The modern elements mean weaving in modern drum beats or English lyrics to the traditional music and incorporating modern body movements. The result is a sort of fusion whose aim is to bridge, to bring the art form into the future.

But “the big, group pieces are the ones that people always love,” Mehta says. “There are a few of those.”

If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ve seen Indique perform at Holi festivities in Fair Park or at Dallas Dance Fest. The opportunity to see them on the Winspear stage is unsurpassable.

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