The 2021 Signature Program, presented by Fall for Dance North and TO Live, contains three acts, performed in three different countries, all directed for digital presentation by Vikram Dasgupta. This series is available to stream online, though I had the pleasure of attending an in-person screening at Meridian Hall, which featured a follow-up Q&A with Dasgupta.
Shot at the Nrityagram Dance Village in Bangalore India, this first piece features the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. There are some introductory interviews and footage of dancers from the ensemble. The main dance, which tells the story of young lovers in the forest, Lalita Lavanga, is choreographed by Surupa Sen and features Sen and Pavithra Reddy.
In the outdoor space, surrounded by stone pillars, the specific timing of the production is perfect. The setting sun glints majestically through the trees and the oncoming twilight lends the piece a dreamlike quality.
Featuring the Malpaso Dance Company, choreographer Aszure Barton’s Bloom is filmed at Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam in Havana, Cuba. The kinetic and fluid visuals open on the street of Havana. We pull backward swiftly into an enclosed courtyard where we discover the dancers.
Dressed in casual pants and shirts, the piece immediately disarms you. The ensemble is quite large, but they are so connected to each other and the viewer that the piece feels intimate and accessible. The featured dancers are Daile Carrazana, Dunia Acosta, Daniela Miralles, Iliana Solís, Beatriz García, Osnel Delgado, Heriberto Meneses, Osvaldo Cardero, Armando Gómez, Leonardo Dominguez and Esteban Aguiar.
There is a very powerful sense of a community here, of many unique individuals in communication, maintaining a delicate balance and a maintaining an urgent momentum.
This piece contains, though, what I feel to be director Dasgupta’s one glaring misstep. He cuts rather frequently to an overhead shot that feels completely disjointed. The intention is to convey the patterns of the choreography, but it took me out of the piece entirely since it dissipates all the intimacy established by the rest of the footage where he is so adept at placing us within the space of the dance. The final moment, a close up a performer’s face—a definitive fourth wall break—is truly arresting.
This may be the piece that left the deepest impression on me. Shot at the Battersea Arts Centre in London, UK, My Mother’s Son features brothers Mthuthuzeli and Siphe November. Choreographed by Mthuthuzeli, there is such a compelling sense of urgency in this performance.
The vast, cavernous space threatens to dominate and overwhelm us and the dancers, but rather than intimate them, it seems to impel them to greater intensity. Their movement is a tangle of sweat and sinews, an urgent grasping for each other.
The brothers, training on different continents, had never performed together before this. Their connection has a palpable, visceral intensity that is absolutely breathtaking. This is a definite catharsis here—an exhilarating release of pent up yearning for this opportunity to collaborate.
During the Q&A, I learned of many intriguing circumstances involved in director Dasgupta’s hectic globe-trotting to capture these performances. They were shot over the summer, just after the death of his father—an event he feels has greatly informed the work. Regarding his process of striving to convey dance on screen, the three take-aways that resonated the most with me were: trust, instinct and a deep interest in people.
Each act in the 2021 Signature Program feels vital and distinct. But more than that, they are so fiercely human.