Live Shots: Nrityagram Dance Ensemble at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3/31/11


You could hear the dancers before you could actually see them. The stage was dark, but there was a jingling of a hundred bells that encased the dancer's ankles and jangled with each of their movements. When the lights went up, the audience came face to face with an array of brilliant colors as the dancers moved across the stage in dazzling Indian saris.

These performers have traveled all around the world to share dances that go back to dates that end in B.C. We're talking ancient movements, ones that have been passed down for tens of generations. But what makes Nrityagram Dance Ensemble so unique is not the dances they perform, but the way in which they learn them.

The dancers live communally in India, in the Nrityagram dance village located on a rural farm. The dancers not only practice their performance pieces, but also yoga, meditation, and martial arts -- to name just a few of their ongoing areas of study. The goal is not only to become great dancers but to become well-balanced human beings. Dance as a form of life. Ingenious, right?

The whole performance was strikingly beautiful, especially with the help of four live musicians, whose beats and rhythms could put anyone into a hypnotic trance. There were many movements that I'd seen in yoga class, from elegant hand mudras to precarious one-legged balancing acts. It was ancient and yet so modern -- back in the B.C.'s, these kind of dance moves never would have made their mark on soil of San Francisco.