Satvika - Forms of the Formless

NASDA Theatre, E Block, CPIT, Christchurch

05/10/2012 - 07/10/2012

Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington

25/05/2013 - 26/05/2013

The Body Festival 2012

Production Details


Exotic stories of the romances and battles of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Internationally renowned Wellington based dancer / choreographer Vivek Kinra and Mudra Dance Company present a vibrant dance extravaganza. The dynamic dance work of ‘Satvika’ is a kaleidoscope of motion, colour, music, mime and rhythmm comprising a wide range of dances.

‘Satvika’ showcases Kinra’s choregraphy, which combines traditional and innovative elements of dance. The stories of these dances are based on the philosophies of life. Through the battles and romances of the Hindu gods and goddesses, the darkness is dispersed and the righteous mode of living is portrayed.

Characterised by exotic beauty and charm, Mudra Dance Company is a visual feast of brilliant sari colours, traditional headdresses of braids and flowers and the sparkle of gorgeous jewellery. Vivek Kinra and Mudra Dance Company promise to enthrall their audience with the scintillating and exuberant dance experience of ‘Satvika’.

Company             Vivek Kinra and Mudra Dance Company


2 hrs incl intermission of 15 mins

Mutable and marvellous

Review by Jennifer Shennan 26th May 2013

A colleague in dance history, Anne Middelboe Christensen, wrote, a propos of Danish dance but equally applicable to performances elsewhere…
“The history of dance is as mutable as it is marvellous…the archived documentation of dance is still typically reduced to a programme full of hints, a grandiose press release, a crumpled poster, maybe an interview on the flyer and a couple of judgmental reviews, and then perhaps some information about an in-house video recording that no-one can get hold of anyway. What actually happened on the stage is seldom revealed.”
Furthermore we all know that “what happened” at any given performance will be told in versions and variations galore, depending on who’s doing the telling. Time will embellish and shape those impressions, and memories do what they need to do to survive. So let me tell you what I think happened at Satvika on Saturday night…
Vivek Kinra led 15 members of his company, Mudra, through a programme of ten dances, including full group works, quintets, trios and solos. Bharata Natyam is an established tradition of classical Indian dance. Its heritage of more than 2000 years nonetheless includes a chapter of near-decline during the British Raj era.  The subsequent restoration of the dance form can be seen as a kind of allegorical narrative within the story of India’s independence… one of the history plays. The partition of India and Pakistan at that time gave rise to wounds that remain open and festering still today … one of the tragedies.   
Nothing so simple in India of course, but one of the stories told of the revival of Bharata Natyam involves Anna Pavlova visiting India in 1920s. Her fascination with Indian arts – music, painting, textiles and dance – inspired her to choreograph her own work, but her genuine interest in the dance technique and practice also helped to elevate the local standing of the dance which was then able to emerge from its clandestine status and find vigour for new pathways. The young Rukmini Devi took inspiration from Pavlova’s genuine interest, and devoted her own long life to establishing a context for the development of Bharata Natyam and related arts of music, singing, drumming, as well as song texts in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu among many languages.  Devi founded  in Tamil Nadu, the centre and school of Kalakshetra, which has earned renown for its calibre in the century since.  Vivek Kinra is an honoured graduate of Kalakshetra, so we have in Vivian St. on Saturday night, a danced assurance of something mutable and marvellous.  
Kinra’s arrival in Wellington 23 years ago has seen the steady growth of his Academy where by now thousands of students have learned the discipline, beauty and ecstasy of a dance form that prizes geometric partition of space, mathematical division of time, poetic observations of landscape, tales of trickery and heroism, faltering and faith, and indicates devoted allegiance to any and many of the 650,000 gods in the Hindu pantheon.
Movements of the dance may be beguilingly slow, then trippingly swift, and the grounded sense of balance needed to deliver these adjacently is one of the most admirable aspects of the art that Kinra introduces as “giving form to the formless.”  The rigours of training lead to the freedom of performance, and that is picked up kinaesthetically by an attentive audience.  We each have a body. This is one of the ways in which it can be moved. 
Among the dancers in Mudra are a number born in New Zealand, in families of Gujarati origin. Others are of Fijian connection.  Most of the dancers are students in Bachelor of Commerce and Administration course at VUW, or still at secondary school. Their dance training makes huge demands of time and energy but will be helping their studies, regardless of subject.
In Saturday night’s audience, and therefore an intrinsic part of “what happened” at the performance, was Jean Watson, that indomitable, heroic, selfless, dedicated Wellington woman who has established and maintained, through a trust in support for 25 years, Karunai Illam, a home for destitute children in Tamil Nadu, offering them a place to live and a chance at education. The quiet story of Jean’s determination to surmount obstacles across decades of this endeavour could be choreographed into a dance drama of memorable proportion.  It would need to be stylized, but would still ring true to the force of good over evil.
It is deeply assuring to sense the symmetry of Vivek’s and Jean’s generosity between two countries.  Lately, Bharata Natyam classes are being offered to the children at the Illam. That’s a small miracle, more than Jean would have dreamt possible at the start, when sheer survival was the dictating rhythm of the place. It’s heartening to report that Vivek received an MNZM in recent Honours awards here. We should salute Jean Watson too.
Another audience member, Barbara Lyon, in charge of Ephemera at the Alexander Turnbull Library, was pleased to find that attending the performance revived memories of her visit to India decades ago … to encounter the Sanskrit in some song texts, and to observe the personality of each dancer that brings such delightful contrast, more so than the wide range of physiques, to deliver “the same” dancing differently. 
Barbara will deposit her programme in Ephemera at the Turnbull, and ensure that Satvika will be on record to help some discerning future visitor to the library keen to glimpse, maybe 23 years from now, what dancing in Wellington was like in 2013. Ephemera, because it exists and somebody bothers to contribute deposits there, ensures that “mutable and marvellous” need not necessarily be ephemeral. 


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Joyous craftsmanship

Review by Toby Behan 06th Oct 2012

After a three-year absence from the Body Festival, Vivek Kinra made a welcome return to the stage last night with the Mudra Dance Company, performing Satvika: Forms of the Formless to a capacity house at the modest NASDA Theatre. The audience was provided with a joy to the senses – beginning with the distinctive smell of incense as the stage is approached. From there, the colour, light, music, costumes, rhythm and dance proved captivating.

Kinra himself is a hugely accomplished performer and commands the eye when he takes the stage. He is thoroughly schooled in the roots of his art-form. Bharata-Natyam is a classical Indian dance form – a form of which this reviewer had seen little of beforehand, but which is so compelling in its purity and theatricality that it literally compels one to Google. The definition of Bharata-Natyam is itself perhaps sufficient as a taster for the background of the art-form. The name depicts it as  ‘Bha’ (expression), ‘Ra’ (music), ‘T’ (‘talam’ – beat, or  rhythm) and ‘Natyam’ (dance). The combination of these elements was a joy to behold last night and a refreshingly honest expression of celebratory dance.

Satvika has as its subtitle ‘Tales of the Romances and Battles of Hindu Gods and Goddesses’. The performance is therefore composed of various dances, each composed around a different Hindu deity with distinctive stylized differences. The majority of the pieces are performed by company dancers Radhika Patel and Anuksha Narayan, as well as by Kinra himself, and a lovely touch allows local Christchurch Bharatanatyam teacher Anuradha Ambalavanar to perform in two pieces, as well as some senior dancers from her Christchurch-based Bharatanatyam group, who open the evening’s performance. With all performers wearing traditional costumes, resplendent with colour and bells on their ankles, the overall impression is one of joyous craftsmanship.

The dancers are well-disciplined, and not simply with the physical coordination and athleticism we have come to expect from (for example) ballet and contemporary dance. Watch closely and marvel at the precision of every finger placement and the incredible importance these have in the sculptural form of movement. The eyes and head come to the fore far more than in most other dance styles, and the complicated rhythms (with a lot of foot-stamping and the accompanying jingles from the bells on ankles) are so precisely done. Any dancers who have not seen this form of dance before will be amazed at the discipline involved – if you have not seen the Mudra Dance Company before – make it a point to go.

There are two mighty solos performed by Kinra, with titles almost as demanding as the physical workload each necessitates. Shivapanchaksharastotram is the central piece of the evening, a salutation to Lord Shiva, which features Kinra’s wonderful range of facial expressions, rhythmic precision and theatricality. The (slightly) more dark and sedate Thiruppugarh  is an equally compelling solo, allowing us to catch our breath after witnessing a precise trio from Patel, Narayan and Ambalavanar. Patel and Narayan shoulder most of the workload (and they are both beautiful artists with precision and poise) for the performance, appearing in seven of the ten pieces and never flagging – their dance technique and performance commitment are wonderful to behold.

Many of the ten pieces begin with a narrated opening, with Kinra onstage echoing the spoken words with an effortless series of gestures and poses which reinforce what is being said. The overall effect is like those fancy storybooks we read as children, where the first page of a chapter features a giant and beautiful illustration which hints at what is to come. Indeed, this concept of a storybook is somewhat apt for a description of the performance itself, as so many of the movements and poses are reminiscent of those which we would see from traditional Indian paintings.

It would be good to see more of the larger ensemble numbers on stage, as the spectacle would simply be increased. The duets and solos are wonderful to watch, but with the majority of the pieces featuring three performers or less (and always the same performers) – it becomes harder to accept the diversity that each of the choreographies hold.

Kinra notes in the programme that he is in ‘the twilight of his performance career’. With such a distinguished and talented choreographer and artist performing, please do ensure that you see him before that twilight ends.




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