The Rhythm Lives As They Enter – Review of Kalpana Subbarao’s Ritmo Zindagi

All photos by Amitava Sarkar

Foot-tapping is an understatement when describing this heart-pounding work. A pulsating rhythm pumping life into the theater, Kalpana Subbarao’s Ritmo Zindagi (Rhythm of Life) is electrifying. The Spark Dance Grant recipient presented an outstanding new work in Act 1 of Silambam Houston’s August 13th performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Kalpana Subbarao

The performance commences in darkness, with just the sound of Kathak music, immediately drawing the audience in by piquing its curiosity and allowing its ears to work for its eyes. The Kathak musicians behind the alluring sounds are revealed, and the Kathak dancer, Subbarao, makes a striking entrance shortly after. Her body becomes an instrument, her dance a song, as her feet perform a powerfully percussive accompaniment to the musicians’ enduring expression. It’s a foreshadowing to the famous entrances seen in Flamenco, as described by K. Meira Goldberg in Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco. The body matches the music and the music meets the body, aligning polyrhythms that are reminiscent of a throbbing heart. Just as this reflection emerges, so does the flamenco music. It’s chilling. The flamenco dancer, Edith Niño, enters with a powerful proclamation, making her presence felt. 

Edith Niño

After both the Kathak and Flamenco dancers make their individual entrances, one can’t help but wonder when and how they’ll come together as one. The audience asks and it receives. Building on the intensity of the solo performances, the two dancers join together, with both sets of musicians embracing them warmly as they enter. There’s a flirtatious and feminine play between the dancers as they communicate with each other, the musicians, and with the audience. From tilted head to toe, a call and response radiates from India to Spain and back again.They finish after a short time, leaving the audience on the edge. They wanted more! And more came, in the form of egalitarian variations between who leads and who follows, and who plays and who dances. Subbarao cleverly utilizes structure–heightening curiosity while simultaneously satisfying the audience’s seemingly insatiable yearnings. 

Flamenco Musicians: Cante – Irma La Paloma, Guitarra – Jeremy García, Cajón – Andrés Felix

The language of the song lyrics prove to be no barrier in connecting with the audience as the rhythms and movements speak for themselves, conversing in their own language. Indeed, witnessing the connection between two different cultures and their shared humanity is something understood. Watching the vibrant regalia both in shades of red, gold, and black, but quite unique to their respective cultures, is a dance itself. The sounds of the Flamenco heeled-shoes and the heels of the Kathak dancer’s bare feet were remarkably similar yet differentiated with the instrumentative anklets used in Kathak. Both dancers danced the same movements without sacrificing their respective techniques, a dancerly and microcosmic representation of how cultures can be shared, connected, and respected while remaining authentic.

Kathak Musicians: Vocal & Padhant – Shyama Mishra, Harmonium – Sangeeta Mondal, Violin – Abhishek Balakrishnan, Tabla – Jason Zinn

Subbarao’s work is a classic–it defies the laws of time. These dances were developed centuries ago but are still here and increasingly relevant. It undermines Western constructs of age–it is refreshing to see two mature women perform masterfully. It also plays on tempo, encouraging heartbeats to follow the ebb and flow between rapid and sustained footwork and rhythm. This play continues building and building, until ultimately, the piece ends, but with life given and an entrance fully manifested. 

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  1. Prakash Shah says:

    I need contact information for the artists. I would like to use for our non profit.

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