In a unique and educational solo performance Saturday night, Jaan Freeman of New York City's Dakshina Palli shared a dance born of Hindu temples in southern India. Freeman opened with a dance of invocation which was primarily aesthetic in nature, not seeming to follow any particular storyline but instead introducing the audience to the type of movement and step it would enjoy throughout the evening.
The dance was a great departure from more traditional western dances in many ways; for instance, Freeman began with simple head jerks which, disconcertingly, moved only his head on his neck and left the rest of his body perfectly stationary. This movement gave Freeman's head a strangely disembodied quality which transferred to his performance as his gaze did not follow his hands and sometime feet and other focal points on his body. Instead, Freeman's focus often seemed to watch his hands and feet, arms and legs with curiosity and pleasure, as if they were not part of the same body of his head at all.
After the opening dance, the program consisted of a series of "padams," or slow moving pieces giving the dancer the opportunity to tell stories of Hindi gods and goddesses. Freeman exhibited intricate footwork, beautiful hand gestures, and attention grabbing level changes throughout these stories. The padams dealt with topics including a heroine's love for her lord, the human soul's constant yearning for communion with the divine, and a goddess's desire to see a god one final time.
The closing phrase of the evening was the most technically challenging dance for the performer. As Freeman allowed before he performed the feat of footwork, movement, and still positions, the last piece of dance is "joyous and at times terrifying for the dancer." Terrifying, he went on to explain, because of the rigor of the choreography.
Overall, the Freeman's performance shared a colorful, exciting, and meaningful fragment of Indian culture with a fascinated Louisville audience excited to see what dance event comes next to this neighborhood.
Photo: An Evening of Bharata Natyam flyer/ Srinivas Chilluvuri