Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mesmerizing Tales of Many Indian Women

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mesmerizing Tales of Many Indian Women

Article excerpt

To hold the attention and interest of an audience as a solo performer is the ultimate challenge for any artist. To do so while simultaneously singing, dancing, acting and incorporating character, costume and genre changes ups the ante even higher.

So the fact that I was completely mesmerized for the 50 minutes of Sheetal Gandhi's "Bahu-Beti-Biwi" ("Daughter-in-law, Daughter, Wife") at the Florida Dance Festival in Tampa is a tribute to the power and ingenuity of this physically diminutive but artistically oversized talent.

The Los Angeles-based Gandhi, best known for her work as a creator and performer in Cirque du Soleil's "Dralion" and her leading role in Broadway's "Bombay Dreams," was born in America to parents from India and has long had ties with relatives in that country. This piece, which began as a master's project, combines elements of the classical Kathak dance and music traditions of India's northern desert with percussive text (in both English and Indian dialect) and contemporary song and movement.

On a stage set and lit starkly, with a clothesline to the left and a stream of scattered white feathers on the floor to the right, Gandhi embodies multiple generations of Indian women -- from a hunched grandmother denigrating the morals of the younger generations, to a pre-teen protesting her arranged marriage. Each transformation is utterly believable and engaging, capitalizing on humor and irony, while still making a profound statement on the theme of societal restrictions on women.

Here is a young Indian wife, dutifully rolling out thousands of roti while simultaneously chafing at her restrictions; there is an elder chastising her grandson for wearing short shorts ("Underwear boy!") and her granddaughter for revealing her armpits in a tank top. Incorporating the genre called giddha (satirical songs of resistance), Gandhi chants over and over "I will grind red chiles fine with my new pestle and throw them in my father-in-law's eyes to blind him so I won't have to cover my face" even as her head is shrouded in a black cloth. …

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