"Conversations with Devi" by Mandala Arts
January 21, 2017, Chicago, IL
“Conversations with Devi” directed by Pranita Jain Nayar of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts and performed by I Gusti Ngurah Kertayudah and Mandala’s ensemble of dancers “portrays the endless facets of womanhood and her role in society” a very timely theme for a performance held on the evening of the women’s march in Chicago. Beautifully merging traditional Balinese shadow puppetry performed by the dynamic and animated I Gusti Ngurah Kertayudah with Bharata Natyam dance, this performance centers around the Goddess, Devi who combats the egotistical and power hungry demon, Asura. The very dynamic and witty Jonah Saesan provided live narration, improvising at times to connect to the thematic material of today’s march. Saraswathi Ranganathan and Ravi Subramaniam provided beautifully rhythmic musical accompaniment, complimented by the Indonesian Gamalan played by Indonesian Dance of Illinois.
The performance opens with three dancers on stage dancing in unison. Nayar creates an interesting staging with two dancers on one side of the shadow puppet theater, and soloist, Kinnari Vora, on the other. Vora, who plays Durga Devi, shows graceful strength as she embodies this goddess in her movements, completing a series of combative and powerful kicks to conquer the relentless demon. The performance transitions to the forest with a solo by Malavika Thampi, playing Bhoomi Devi, whose fluid movements aimed to replicate the Earth, providing a nice balance to Vora’s direct and appropriately resilient movement. All five dancers returned to the stage for a rhythmic sequence, furthering the unity and togetherness of today’s event. The performance ends with a solo by Ashwaty Chennat who plays Vishnu/Mohini. Chennat added a sassy and bright personality to the character, which gave a lightness to the performance. This was a very moving way to end a historic day and illustrates the power of the arts in furthering social change.