Shantala Shivalingappa traditional Kuchipudi dancing was inexplicably foreign yet so beautiful that she transported audiences to another world, in this case southern India.
Each movement was preceded by an introduction read in English by a heavily accented woman, providing a much-needed explanation to what we were about to see. The henna painted dancer, aided by vocals, a flute, and two percussionists took to a dimly-lit stage, illuminated by two candled altars. Dressed in a kind of half pant/half dress sari and belled anklets she moved to the rhythm of the beat. But that hardly describes the precision of her step, the execution of her turning wrist, the acute angle of her neck.
Shivalingappa directs her body in an almost Kabuki like way. Her head gently moves side to side on an invisible fulcrum, eyebrows raised, hands in prayer.
Which is to say nothing of the manic metronome accompaniment the band supplied. The audience favorite came when the flute and vocals left the stage to the drummers. The invisible emcee described it as a percussive conversation between the two instrumentalists and indeed it was. The audience joined in and clapped along. Some technical difficulty with one of the drummers’ microphones added a noticeably annoyed feeling in the theater as a whole, but was quickly corrected by the tech team.
Shivalingappa closed the show with a high energy dance. Her flexibility and strength appeared without limit as she leapt and grand pliéd within the same motion and ended the evening with her joy and respect on full display for her audience.
Shantala Shivalingappa • Spoleto Festival USA • $32 • 1 hour, 30 min. • May 24 at 1 p.m., May 25 at 9 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100