REVIEW: Alekya: Spilling Ink at Dance Place
by Rachael Appold
Intertwining spirituality, poetry, and dance can prove to be a significant task, as these three categories manifest in ways which are unique to each person. Spilling Ink took on this task using Classical Indian dance as their medium. I witnessed this collaboration of ideas, titled Alekhya: Spilling Ink, at Dance Place in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, January 29th, 2017.
As the lights dimmed in the theater, a male dancer, Vijay Palaparty entered from upstage right. He moved onto the stage almost undetected; his walk was so soft that it would more accurately be described as a glide. Palaparty floated downstage right where six ceramic jars (five small and one large) awaited him. As he knelt down and executed water-like motions with his arms, a poem was recited through the speakers. The poet spoke of learning his own truth, your truth (the audience’s), and our truth (everyone’s); these truths presented the concept of religion and spirituality. This immediate collaboration of dance and poetry became a motif which would be used to preface each piece in the performance.
Each time Palaparty would return to his jars, the other dancers would leave the stage and a new element was added. The third time around, the poet’s words were scrawled in subtitles on the stage floor with a projector, lending itself to the idea of writing in ink. The fourth time, the other dancers stayed onstage, swaying their arms and torsos as Palaparty hovered over his jars. During the fifth time, the other dancers knelt down next to the him and the final time, they joined him in swaying over the jars.
This introductory motif would last for a short time before it dissipated into a group piece, with four female dancers and another male dancer joining Palaparty onstage. The first piece in the show began slowly and softly, with the dancers standing stationary in space while moving their arms and shifting their focus. This gentle beginning burst into dynamic and percussive movement during which the dancers shifted in large, smooth strides along the stage. They formed walls with each other and shifted between gaps that the audience could not see. They moved between each other, sharply and unafraid of crashing, all while maintaining their shifts in focus.
Consistent in their percussive movement was the astonishingly loud stomping of their feet. The music playing over the dancers featured a loud and steady drum beat, which originally led me to believe that the music was responsible for such a thunderous noise. But the loud jingling of the bells around their ankles informed me that the thunder was indeed coming from their feet. The vibrancy of their clothing matched the booming sounds their feet made; they were decked in orange, pink, and purple outfits which slightly resembled sarees. Every dancer wore elaborate makeup and was draped in golden jewellery. The female dancers had tied their hair in long ponytails which were secured to their lower back by waist chains.
The jars that Palaparty swayed over throughout the piece proved to be more than just props; during the last piece, the dancers obtained the small jars while Palaparty kept the large one. They spun in circular motions for a short time, occasionally lifting the jars overhead. To finish, the dancers pretended to pour their jars into Palaparty’s jar, letting the audience believe that their containers were empty. The grand finale occurred when the dancers tipped their jars over completely, allowing sand in many different colors to spill out across the stage.
This final moment truly pushed the idea of inclusivity within a spiritual collaboration. I spoke to one of the dancers, Krithika Rajkumar, after the performance, who emphasized the importance of individuality in this work. Rajkumar stated that the goal of this production was to “find religion, individuality, and dance art.” She also asserted that the dancers do “not portray God himself” and that the work is more of a “journey of the soul.” This was exhibited by each dancer’s act of pouring the content of their own jars into Palaparty’s jar before displaying the contents across the stage.
After the performance, Palaparty vocally dedicated Alekhya: Spilling Ink to Dr. K. Uma Rama Rao, an “acclaimed guru, choreographer, researcher, and exponent of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance forms,” who died in August 2016. Palaparty also told the audience that we would receive a “homework” assignment in the lobby of Dance Place. This assignment was presented to us in small white gift bags with orange tissue paper. Inside the bags was a scroll of blank drawing papers, a box of crayons, and instructions. We were left with the assignment of creating a work of art with the provided materials and posting a picture of it on Spilling Ink’s Twitter.
The act of having the audience share our own artwork wraps up the concept of dance, poetry, and spirituality combined with individuality and allows the audience a chance to show the company their own work or truth. As I left Dance Place, I wished that the company had explained the title of the production: Alekhya. Perhaps, they wanted the audience to look up the term for ourselves, which I did. “Alekhya” is described as “that which can not be written.” Although I am not able to find the connection between this definition and the production at the time, I believe that the act of finding the connection for myself put the finishing touch on Spilling Ink’s concept of individuality.