On November 10, 2023, a balmy Fall evening at the “Edye’s Second Space”, a 100 seat black box theatre across the plaza from the BroadStage, the audience was led into the space which was lit with soft spotlights overhead. Three-layered bleachers surrounded the room with people getting settled, meeting, chatting and rubbing elbows with benefactors, aficionados, and fans of the notable Leela Dance Collective and the Salastina Chamber Ensemble for the California Festival, Encounters with Beauty.
Leela Dance Collective are experts in dances of Northern India and are noted for carrying forward the acclaimed work of legendary Kathak master and guru, Pandit Chitresh Das (Chitresh Das Dance Company -CDDC established in 1980). The dance company has delighted audiences with groundbreaking productions for over 35 years. Leela Dance Collective’s Co-Artistic Directors and dancers Rukhmani Mehta and Seibi Lee with dancers Rachna Nivas, Joanna Meini, Carrie Jennings, Sonali Toppur, Ahana Mukherjee, were all trained by Chitresh Das in the traditional guru-shishya Parampara style. Lee, Nivas and Mehta have performed and toured for nearly two decades as principal dancers and embody the stunning traditional and innovative spirit of “Das” passing down the artistic integrity of this exceptional work.
Coupled with Leela is the visionary chamber ensemble, Salastina, based in Los Angeles. They share their brilliance by creating 21st century chamber music salons. This is where musicians and audience members, both in person and online, gather to share their gift of music through performance and conversation. To head Salastina are Co-Directors Maia Jasper White Executive Director and Co-Artistic Director, Resident Violinist, Yale Graduate, Studio Musician and Director of Chamber Music at Cal Tech; and the notable Kevin Kumar, Co-Artistic Director and outstanding violin soloist and concertmaster. Together they Founded Salastina in 2010.
This was a particularly exciting evening with the collaboration of Leela and Salastina encouraged by Maia Jasper White and Rukhmani Mehta. This collaboration also included the introduction of the young American Composer Derrick Skye who transcends both genres and cultures. Skye in his process as an eclectic and inventive artist examined the mission of his composition asking the provocative question, “What does America Sound like?” Out of this query came the evening’s impressive work, American Mirror played by violinists Meredith Crawford and Kevin Kumar, Co-Artistic Director; Yoshika Masuda, Cellist and Benjamin Smolen, flutist. This work expressed the flavor of both classical European music combined with New Music and spiced with the rhythms of classic Kathak dance. It is Skye’s astute reflection of the melding of America’s infectious rhythms, melodies and meditations that introduces the excellence of Salastina’s String Quartet and Leela Dance Collective.
The evening began with the Quartet and the drone sounds that brought in three fascinating Kathak dancers, Rukhmani Mehta, Carrie Jennings and Joanna Meini. The intricate rhythms of feet stamping and sounds from bell ladened ankles, the dancers in simple elegant black dresses slit from knee to hips, and black dhotis(pants) fascinated the audience with the wonderful transitions of bodies, positions and formations on the sparse stage. Their fingers and hands were beautifully placed in ornamental configurations with graceful arched arms and heads. As the piece went on dancers Sonali Toppur and Ahana Mukherjee joined in to fill the space with the joy of mesmerizing rhythms and movements. The music combined with formations of the dancers and expressed a variety of stunning contours delivered so admirably by the dancers coupled with the musician’s expert playing, completed the stunning first act.
After a short intermission, the second act began featuring the ecstatic poetry of R. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande’s bandish (composition) which called upon the effortless vocalese of Hindustani Vocalist, Saavani Thigale. Her youthful ardor drew in the enrapt audience with her meditative devotional. Tigale slowly then expanded her vocalese until one was intoxicated with the mesmerizing ecstatic poetry. She performed five exquisite compositions by Bhide Deshpande. Each bandish, beckoning the listener to come closer in its commitment to understanding the beauty of the aesthetic moment.
While on the stage floor, four dancers Mehta, Lee, Jennings, and Meini were seated at angles, their stylized hands moving amid circular arms. Their diaphanous muslin draped costumes shimmered with each gesture and as they proceeded, each member of the company gathered in celebration of the final sharing. With rhythmic spinning and sounds of bells, the gorgeous evening culminated in a dance of intense devotion and Joy bringing this very special collaboration of Leela Dance Collective and Salastina’s “Encounters with Beauty” to an uplifting end in a celebration of love.
What an exquisite evening of brilliant dance and music, is well worth a trip to see these remarkable artists who presented such transcendent creative eloquence. This was a gift that needs to be shared for its healing of a world of complexity and fury.
“Life and death are the only reality. You come alone, you go alone. Only thing to do in between is practice and do whatever you do with love.” Chitresh Das
For more information about Leela Dance Collective, please visit their website.
For more information about Salastina, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Leela Dance Collective with Salastina – California Festival: Encounters with Beauty – Photo by Margo Moritz.