New Directions In Art



Flexn artists, photo by Sodium for MIF 2015

We had not heard of Flexn until this week, when they were mentioned in a podcast with the phenomenal Peter Sellars (alluded to once previously in these pages, and linked to another time directly). Now we want to know more. And it looks like one way to learn more will happen at The Shed. Back in August, when we first heard about The Shed, it was a quick glance at the future. Now we have more detail, thanks to this early release of a profile in next week’s New Yorker:


How will the director of New York’s ambitious experimental cultural center change the city?

By Calvin Tomkins

Every so often, it seems, visual artists are stricken by the urge to perform. The “happenings” movement in the nineteen-sixties—young painters and sculptors doing nonverbal theatre—was explained as a response to Pollock, de Kooning, and other gestural Abstract Expressionists: it was the gesture without the painting. Continue reading

The Most Continuously Staged Performance in the World

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. PHOTO: Griyayunika

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. PHOTO: Griyayunika

Java is one of the main islands in the archipelago nation of Indonesia, home to the country’s capital, Jakarta, and almost 60% of its population. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit flourished here from about the 13th to the 15th centuries, leaving its impact on culture, language and landscape. Temples in honour of Vishnu and Shiva are scattered through the islands, words from Sanskrit make appearances in the language, and names from the Mahabharata and Ramayana dot establishments and shops across cities. Still, in modern-day Indonesia, Hindus account for less than 2% of the population.

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Raise Your Voice

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We have all faced airline/airport delays, and it is always tempting to raise one’s voice in anger.  What if your raised voice could make everything just a little bit better for everyone? Thanks to the New York Times and the root for bringing this to our attention:

…Facing a six-hour delay, the casts of “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” gave a spontaneous performance at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. It appears that the “sing-off,” which occured in an airline waiting area, lifted quite a few spirits…

Casual Cultural Conservation Through Dance

The only working Danish windmill in the US.

A few weeks ago I visited a friend from Cornell whose family lives in Nebraska and comprises a good portion of the Scandinavian Folk Dancers of Omaha. I’d seen them perform before at the New England Folk Festival in April, held in Mansfield, Massachusetts, but unfortunately at that point my phone’s camera wasn’t the right tool for the job of documenting their great dancing. This time, when the group performed on a much more intimate stage at the Danish Tivoli Festival in Elk Horn, Iowa, (Elk Horn and neighboring Kimballton apparently make up the largest rural Danish settlement in the US) I was ready with my camera and was able to take some half-decent videos of several of the dances. The audio quality isn’t the best given the slightly windy conditions, but hopefully you can get a general feel for the experience in the video below.

We’ve featured some thoughts on dance on the blog before, especially given Kerala’s Continue reading

If You Happen To Be On Ponce De Leon

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It’s been awhile since we wrote about Nick Cave and the inspired and inspiringly creative form of upcycling he applies in his “happenings”. It seems particularly appropriate that this particular Flux Project (sounds pretty pop-up, right?) takes place at Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, an adaptive reuse renovation of the historic 1926 Sears & Roebuck building into an urban community of hub of living, work and public space.

About the work

Up Right: Atlanta is a “call to arms, head and heart” for Cave initiates—the lead characters of this work. Through the performance, they are prepared mind, body and spirit to face the forces that stand in the way of self-hood, to enter a world over which they have complete control. Initiates become warriors of their own destiny.

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If You Happen To Be In Ithaca

Bijayini Satpathy, top, and Surupa Sen in two duets, “Dheera Sameere” and “Kisalaya Sayana,” in Chennai, India. Credit Jyothy Karat for The New York Times

Bijayini Satpathy, top, and Surupa Sen in two duets, “Dheera Sameere” and “Kisalaya Sayana,” in Chennai, India. Credit Jyothy Karat for The New York Times

On February 4 Nrityagram, a dance troupe from India, will perform “Songs of Love and Longing” at Cornell University’s Barnes Hall. We normally do not take note of such performances at university campuses, even when the artist is from India. But this troupe is exceptional. Last week not far from Raxa Collective’s operations in Kerala, in the neighboring state, a Nrityagram dance performance led to this remarkable review in the New York Times:

A Sublime Touch, From Head to Heel

Odissi Stars at a Dance Festival in Chennai, India

JAN. 6, 2015

CHENNAI, India — Who are the greatest dancers in the world today? Most of the contenders considered in the West for this category are the roving international stars of ballet. But many of today’s finest dance artists have been performing here at the Music Academy’s weeklong dance festival, which ends on Friday. Some — all women — have touched on the sublime.

Three have been practitioners of the Odissi genre: Sujata Mohapatra, who performed on Sunday, and the two leading dancers of the Nrityagram company, Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, who presented solos and duets on Monday. (I’ll consider other festival performances next week, some no less superlative.)

Odissi is the classical idiom deriving from the eastern state of Orissa (now named Odisha). Though its roots go back 2,000 years, by the 1940s and ’50s it was scarcely known, whereas now it is taught and performed around the world. These three artists exemplify the qualities that have often made Odissi seem the most sensuously poetic of all dance idioms.

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South Indian Music at the Kathakali Culture Center

I had the pleasure of listening to classical South Indian music the other night with a guest I happened to connect with at the 51 restaurant in Spice Harbour. We went to the oldest remaining theater in Fort Cochin for Kathakali, which is a traditional art form of Kerala that originated in the early 17th century. In this theater, they have famous Kathakali dance as well as classical music, meditation, and yoga. Even though we just went for the music, I got to learn a little bit more about the dance.


The made-up face of the Kathakali dancers is ubiquitous around Kerala. To do the make up takes at least one hour.

In Malayalam, ‘Katha’ means story and ‘Kali’ means play. I didn’t see the traditional Kathakali dance but from what I learned the dance has a storyline that is acted out through mime and drama. The stories are mostly based on Hindu mythology.

The instruments that we listened to were flute, mridangam, and kanjira. Mridangam and kanjira are drums. There was also a drone playing from an electronic shruti box.

The music put me into a dreamy state of mind. As I was listening I found my mind drifting back to all my music theory classes to help me wrap my mind around what I was listening to.  In the beginning they told us the ragas were in 8 count rhythm. Our minds can easily predict phrases that fit within a 4 count rhythm, so I wondered what made an 8 count so different. Then I realized the emphasis was on the 5th and 7th count which was pretty cool and made me understand why the phrasing was so unpredictable. Something about the syncopated rhythm and the ambiance sent me into a theta state of deep relaxation.

I was grateful to spontaneously meet that friend and get to experience that traditional aspect of Kerala culture!


Festival Of The Gods – Theyyam

Photo credits : Shymon G

Photo credits: Shymon G

Theyyam is one of the most popular ritualistic dances of Kerala. It is a devotional performance with a surrealistic representation of the divine. Almost every village in Kerala has its own temple with an annual festival. So there’s always a local festival happening somewhere or the other, each with its own special flavour. Continue reading

Temple Dance – Kerala

Photo Credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo Credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Kerala temples offer a veritable array of performing arts, often related to religious rituals and and mythological stories. The rhythm and elegance of the temple dances of Kerala are a result of  the various cultural influences that took place in the state. The dramatic costumes, vibrant colors, and throbbing music all make watching temple dances an unforgettable experience. Continue reading

Theyyam Face Make-up

Photo credits: Jithin Vijay

Photo credits: Jithin Vijay

Face painting is one of the most important parts of Theyyam, an ancient form of worship in certain parts of Kerala. Theyyam dance make-up should be made from as many natural materials as possible. Coconut leaves are used as brushes, and the make-up artist should have perfect knowledge of how to combine colours.  Continue reading

Snake Charmer

Photo  credit : Jithin

Photo credit: Jithin

Snake charmers can manipulate trained snakes by playing the instrument called pungi from Indian folk music. This practice originated in India and lives on today in street performances. The snake charmers lure the snakes from bamboo baskets with their pungi while tourists and residents alike pass by.



Photo credit : Shymon

Photo credit: Shymon

Chakkiyarkoothu is a traditional dance form originally performed by priests at Hindu temples. This solo performance was traditionally performed only by the Chakkiyar community, a Brahmin caste of Kerala. The Chakkiyar narrates the story based on the Holy books of ‘Ramayana and Mahabharata’.

Performing Arts – Chamundi Theyyam

Photo credits : Jithin Vijay

Photo credits: Jithin Vijay

Kerala has a veritable array of performing arts. Theyyam or Kaliyattom is one of the most popular ritualistic dances of Kerala. Costumes with crownlike headgear, breastplates, ornaments, special face painting and variously shaped garments of cloth and palm leaf fronds make Theyyam a colourful visual. It is a devotional performance with a surrealistic representation of the divine. Continue reading

Performing Arts – Padayani

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Padayani literally means the “ranks of an army”, but is also related to religious rituals and mythological stories. It is the symbolic victory march of Goddess Bhadrakali after she defeated the demon Darikan. Unmarred by caste distinction, it is a community celebration with audiences providing an active participatory role with drums and pipes used for musical support. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 9.36.32 AMClick the image at left to learn more about two performances which, if you happen to be in New York City or close by this weekend, you might enjoy if you are a danceophile, Indophile, or both. Thanks to New York University for hosting a sample of our home country culture:

Following unforgettable performances by Shantala Shivalingappa and Rama Vaidyanathan in 2011, and Nrityagram Surupa Sen & Bijayini Satpathy in 2013, Dancing the Gods weekend festival highlighting classical Indian dance returns in 2014 with more striking artists.

“…both briskly exciting and exacting, [Dandekar’s turns are] a wonder…” THE NEW YORK TIMES

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Photo credits :Ajalraj

Photo credits: Ajalraj

Similar to the Theyyam dance, Thirra is a ritual dance performed in Goddess temples of the North Malabar region of Kerala.It is believed that the puny frame of the performer draws the strength to support the massive headgear from the loud clothing, ceremonial facial paint and the dance movements themselves presented in front of the deity the Goddess.This art form is performed by the artists of the Peruvannam community. Continue reading

Mayillattam Dance

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

The Mayillattam Dance derives its name from the Peacock, the celestial vehicle of Hindu Lord Subramania (son of Lord Shiva). Donning the costume of a Peacock, with painted faces, beak, headgear and wings of peacock feather, the dancers perform this ritualistic dance offering. As a ritual, it continues to be practised in the Travancore region. Continue reading