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BWW Review: Challenging the Status Quo with the KATHAK ENSEMBLE & FRIENDS

On the evening of March 3, 2017, the Kathak Ensemble & Friends, under the artistic direction of Janki Patik, presented a new Indian-influenced contemporary dance at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery. This new work entitled WE SINFUL WOMEN, draws upon the theme of universal repression of women. The choreography is performed to the words of female Urdu poets Ishrat Aafreen, Kishwar Naheed, Zehra Nigah, and Fahmida Riaz along with an original music score by two-time Canadian Grammy-winner and composer Kiran Ahluwalia.

The poems are part of a collection of the same name, WE SINFUL WOMEN, originally published in 1990. It tells the story of women who had few rights- and their poetry was considered blasphemous for bringing up such themes. The poems along with the choreography send a strong message of feminism and women's rights. However, Ms. Patrik describes the work as "..not classical Indian dance. And the poets do not consider their texts 'feminist' poetry either. Instead the dance, poetry, and music join in expressing what it is to be a woman- her tender feelings, her pride, her resistance to efforts to destroy her selfhood, her sadness at consistent denigration by those in power."

The dance contained eight movement sections. Each section represented a different poem. Some of the parts really resonated with me. The opening segment was called FIRST PRAYER OF MY ELDERS. It focused on the deep sadness of a woman who just gave birth to a baby girl. In traditional Indian culture (and many other cultures), having a son was seen as a valuable resource, since males can earn money, while having a daughter was seen as a liability because of the financial responsibility her parents owe to her husband's family. Another part that I enjoyed was entitled IMAGE. It talked about the comparison of what society expects of women, how a woman views herself, and how drastically different the two images can be. Playing with the idea of mirroring- moving like one's reflection in choreography- there was a tension of which image will be accepted, which one should be exposed.

I enjoyed the relationship between SAROPA/ From Head to Toe and ANTICLOCKWISE/ From Head to Foot. In the first section, it is a man speaking about how he adores his wife. However it portrayed the idea of the woman being clasped at the ankles and being tied down. The second part is the woman's response. It was very forceful in that the man can do everything he can to hold the woman back, but she will not be broken. We need to remember that our mind is our greatest weapon. Hinduism, as many other religions, is a predominately male oriented one that has trickled down to become societal norms often curtailing a woman's freedom. There is a traditional dominance of male authority that often restricts women. Many wives live miserable lives as servants to their husbands and kept in confinement. This leads to much resentment and anger- which is an expression of their pain and hurt.

The final section was entitled WE SINFUL WOMEN. There is now a movement that is challenging the traditional roles and status of women with new ideas of independence and equality in India and that is great. However, there is some tension with these new ideologies as they are contradictory to a male dominant society. Women are being ousted by society for their "misbehavior" and being called "sinful." This piece sends a very strong message about standing together in solidarity and standing up for what is right.

The dancers were absolutely beautiful! They danced with such grace and elegance, but yet strong and forceful. I very much enjoyed this piece. It is a heavy topic, but art is to be the expression of how we feel and a reflection of what is going on in our lives. As artists we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the hard stuff and challenge the ideas we don't agree with. In our society of superiority and inferiority, we are living in a world that consistently tries to bring the "other" down. It is times like right now that we need to come together. We may be looked down upon for not agreeing with traditional ideologies, but we need to continue to speak up for whatever we believe in. Don't back down!

We all have things that we see and we don't like, but how do we communicate those ideas in a way that is not attacking, but rather sparks awareness and change? I think Ms. Patik did a wonderful job of showcasing an issue in a way that is artistic, beautiful, and informative. Congratulations!

Photo Credit: Darial Sneed

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From This Author Caryn Cooper

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