Infinite Storms, The Theatre Centre, Toronto, through January 29, 2017
By all accounts – including Nova Bhattacharya’s – migraines deliver some of the worst pain humans experience. But headaches, back pain, bowel obstruction, depression, any kind of pain, all have a common effect: they make the sufferer feel alone, watching in agony as everyone else appears to enjoy themselves, or at least function normally.
How such a subject could be effectively explored in a dance and still be called art is amply demonstrated in Nova Bhattacharya’s Infinite Storms.
A thorough and fascinating fusion of eastern and western concepts, dance forms and philosophy, the hour-long piece consists of one reveal after another, the finale the most surprising of all.
As viewers take their seats, four female figures sit in smokey twilight around a central wrapped pillar – a maypole. The saris of three of them are woven into the pole.
Accompanied by the sound of deep, yogic breathing, a fourth, untethered, figure in a sari begins to dance, Bharatanatyam style, playing two hand bells. Gradually the other women unwind their saris, get to their feet and leave their posts, dancing, posing, with modern, balletic and Indian classical gestures intertwined as carefully as the cloths around the maypole. But the pole is actually Bhattacharya, tightly wrapped in darkness up til now and soon looking like a martyr being burned at the stake.
The others – Kate Holden and Molly Johnson, Atri Nundy and Malarvilly Varatharaja – are meanwhile moving, stomping bare feet, swinging arms and making broad facial expressions.
The other thing about pain is that it can quickly turn to pleasure, tears morphing to laughter, or simple relief.
Anyone in the audience could find something to identify with in Infinite Storms and apply a personal interpretation. Opening so soon after the women’s march, this all-female work also evoked the sense of solidarity experienced when one individual in pain connects with another and all find they are not alone, but actually connected in their suffering.
Bhattacharaya’s program notes end on the word “samsara” a Sanskrit term often found in Buddhist teachings to express the circularity and constancy of change in life as we know it. And it is this concept that ties together sound, tabla rhythms, colour changes, dance repetitions and symmetries, in one glorious carnival that ends with a maypole dance and a final, ingenious, laugh-inducing tableau.
Choreographer: Nova Bhattacharya
Collaborator: Louis Laberge-Côté
Performers: Kate Holden, Molly Johnson, Atri Nundy, Malarvilly Varatharaja, Nova Bhattacharya
Lighting: Marc Parent
Costume design: Tina Fushell
Sound/Tabla: Ed Hanley