March 3rd, 2011 Pushkar
Intermission music still plays on an unattended gramophone. Pretty soon the needle will run out of record and the silence will signal the eminent return to the story of the Madmen.
There are moments in life when the veil thins enough for the conscious mind to perceive the human folly of believing in time. We use axioms such as “time flies,” “I never have enough time,” “where has the time gone?” We allow time to rule our lives. We box ourselves into constraints of time. Micromanaging moments. Watching the sand fall through the hourglass. Hoping to capture the magic and mystery of time. It’s when we turn our back on time, when we deprive it of the power of acknowledgment that we surpass its wantonness and flaky nature. Time will never give you the time of day if you wait for it.
Standing on the dimly deepak (oil candle) lit stage, smelling the perfume of incense and rose petals safely clasped in my hands, gazing at the garland statue of Nataraja presiding over the performance, I turned my back on time. In what mystics from time immemorial describe with inadequate words as transcendental experience or divine communion, whatever you choose for semantics, I watched as the veil was parted before my eyes. Instead of being transported to another place, I was blessed with the awareness of being fully and completely grounded. As the sitar strung a mala of notes through the inner reaches of my ear where I felt the blood pulsing in adrenaline, I experienced a timeless boundless space (not moment, which is an increment of time) where the colors crystallized before me. The vivid white and royal purple purses of delicate petals ringing Nataraja’s neck, the blood red tips of my alta stained fingers raised above my head in offering, the orbs of fertile green fruit hanging suspended in the tree above me. The world as it is. This is why I choose to dance. These are the spaces that feed my soul. This is where one becomes a poet of movement.
After what felt like an eternity of knowing, but realistically resided in the space between two drum beats, I was once again slowly pivoting forward under the branches of the tree I had climbed in childhood abandon the day before during rehearsal. Prepared to face the hundreds of audience members with a secret serene smile gracing my lips. Hours, days, weeks, months had prepared me for this moment. Had taught my feet the steps, my legs the power, my arms the grace, but my smile was all my own. Acacia told me I looked like the Cheshire cat when I smiled. I liked that. I liked the mystery and allure of having a smile just out of reach.
The dance itself was just the same as we had been rehearsing for what seemed like lifetimes. The stage was gorgeously bejeweled in flowers and bright tikka powdered designs. Jaganath looked on from an auspicious corner. My costume was constricting, in a way that brought memories of childhood clothing tantrums just thinking about having to unpin everything when eventually my bladder would realize its neglect. The hours painting (literally painting; with a paint brush) on our performance faces, restraining hair into a dignified graceful bun, pinning into place pleats and errant bits of fabric, only to be told the police were trying to shut down the performance as we hurriedly finished applying alta (red paint) to fingertips and toes.
None of it mattered once we began dancing. Rotating around each other (19 of us) like celestial beings with delicately orchestrated orbits. Remembering the steps, listening for nonexistent cues, keeping feet apart so as not to accidentally get stuck by connecting gungaroo together (I did in rehearsal…). It all miraculously came together. The choreography was created for us in the midst of the week before. We learned it as our teachers created it. We had a total of two days of full un-choreographed rehearsal. There must be something divine about this dance. I cannot imagine this being pulled off in any other dance or on any other stage.
We ended the dance in a pose of supplication. Head down, hands in anjali mudra on the floor. As the lights went down we raised our open hands in a gesture of benevolence with eyes upward. As the sitar’s notes quietly exited stage right like lightning bugs dancing on the breeze, I could hear the breath in my chest attempting to catch up with the rest of my body. Although the lights were dark, I felt like I could light the stage with the lunar glow of my exhilarated, ecstatic, happy face. The face that my teacher Sudansuji looked for before the performance. “Kenni! Kenni! Where is Kenni?” I replied “I’m right here,” with the smile I knew he was searching for. The one that on many occasions inspired him to squeeze my cheeks. The grin that has a mind of its own. The one that scrunches up my cheeks to heights that make it hard to see past. The one that is the truest reflection of the happiness in my heart.
We exited the stage to modest applause and sat in our reserved seats in the front to watch the rest of the show. The items danced by our teachers, the professionals from Orissa, and the last dance drama with all of the above plus Vanessa and Melea specially chosen in supporting roles. The show was beautiful, mesmerizing, and powerful. I was continually moved by the music played by the best of the best Odissi Classical musicians, the expressions of the dancers, and the collective dream that each component came together to weave.
As the show ended and we made our way back to the school to attempt to unpin and escape from the constraints of the beautiful yet clingy costume like an insecure lover afraid to let you our of its sight, I found myself skipping along in the dark with a fellow dancer Whinney. We held our rose and marigold bouquets as we skipped, jumped, and danced a jig of joy on the way back to school. A temple man whistled and giggled along with us in our excitement.
Because it is how the world works, it took no time at all to get undressed and back into street clothes. Gungaroo and temple hair pieces safely stowed under arms as we carried our sacred objects of dance back to our respective rooms. The evening concluded with a dal bhati dinner for the dancers, musicians, photographers, and videographers at Sai Baba (the guest house where I live. I know, very convenient).
I fell into bed the latest I have in months, 1:30am, riding the relief of knowing the performance was done and the bittersweet knowledge that it meant Melea was leaving the next day. After a somewhat restful night’s sleep, in celebration of the end of our grueling schedule, Melea, Vanessa, Thomas, Acacia, and I had breakfast. Vanessa and I shared a Nutella and Mars bar pancake (!) and we said our emotional goodbyes to both teachers Nirodji and Sudasuji (our Guruji is teaching this month solo) as well as the Roeds. Sudansuji squeezed my hand, told me I was a very special beautiful person that he would never forget and Nirodji said “our bodies are leaving, but our souls are staying behind.” I was gifted with a miniature Jaganath statue that emerged from an entire suitcase of Jaganaths, that now rests on a shelf in the room I no longer share with Melea, but a new friend Vanessa.
My goodbyes to Melea, Thomas, and Acacia were thankfully not full of tears, but it was a close call on my part. I am eternally grateful for the time I have been able to share with first Melea and Shawna, then only Melea. I will always cherish this time together. The whirlwind exit by the Roeds also marks my last contact with home for a long while. Unless of course you come to see me in Turkey Mom. Or Dad, I will learn Slovak just for you if you come roam the countryside of your grandparents with me. No matter what, I am always surrounded by the love of friends and memories of home. I am excited to continue this journey as the tortoise. Always carrying my home on my back. Sufficient unto myself.
Speaking of turtles and the tropical places they live, *cough, cough* Vanessa and I just booked plane tickets to the Andaman Islands for three weeks! We do not leave until next month, after the end of our Odissi training, but it will be a perfectly timed celebration of our 3 month dedication to Odissi. Beach, surf, sun, and what I hear is some of the most pristine island beauty in the world. I bounce in my seat a little just thinking about it. I suspect I will be even more excited once I fly into Port Blair. My total beach time past the age of 4 consists of one 5 day stretch in Thailand 3 years ago. I was starting to get jealous of all of my little brother’s photos of the Bay Islands. Hopefully I can turn a not quite so glow in the dark shaded of pale while I’m there. The pale that causes babies to spontaneously be thrown in my direction here in India. More about that with the Madmen story.
This month it’s back to the grindstone. No performance, just good old dancing. I am excited. I am also excited to begin what feels like a new chapter, or maybe paragraph in this story. Dancing for the sake of dancing. Training everyday to become a poet of movement. The only way one becomes better at dancing is to dance. The only way one becomes better at writing is to write (even with the vestiges of red paint staining my fingernails). I desire to let my dancing be poetry and the sentences typed by my fingers to dance in abandon across the page. I don’t think it’s really so much to ask from life. A little beauty. A little slice of magic.