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Review

Homage to a holy river that needs room to flow Add to ...

GANGA

Janak Khendry Dance Company

At Fleck Dance Theatre

in Toronto on Thursday

Sometimes a choreographer can become too wedded to his material. A case in point: Janak Khendry's ambitious new work.

Ganga - the title is the Sanskrit word for Ganges river - is Khendry's heart-felt homage to this holy Indian icon. He spent years researching the river's metaphysical and spiritual importance, and his passion infuses every moment of this episodic production, which traces Ganga from her very beginnings to the present day. And that is the problem - too much information, pardon the pun, muddies the waters.

For a start, the well-conceived dance sections here can stand alone. Khendry should trust his own instincts as a choreographer to tell his story of Ganga, instead of using the long descriptive introductions before each section that duplicate what is already in very detailed program notes. The spoken text slows down the vibrancy of the dance.

The music also needs reconsideration. Composer Ashit Desai has given Khendry a wonderfully evocative score. More often than not, though, it comes to an abrupt stop. Khendry can have his slow fade to black after each dance section, but his music should run throughout the scene changes so that the mood is not broken. At the premiere, there were just too many long pauses.

As for the story itself, some editorial culling might be in order. The piece begins with the complex events that preceded Ganga's birth, but this background would be better covered in the program. Likewise, Khendry might want to rethink the section inspired by a declaration making the Ganges India's national river and his fervent plea for saving the Ganges, spoken over a slide projection of the deteriorating river.

Whether admirable or informative, all feel extraneous to heart of the dance. So does the sporadic animation depicting the goddess Ganga, which, quite frankly, looks cartoonish. Ganga does not need the multimedia approach; the choreography has its own integrity.

Indeed, the rest of this production - which deals with the heavenly and earthly life of the Ganges - makes for a very strong dance piece. The costumes that Khendry has designed are a glory of colour. Bradley Trenaman's atmospheric lighting adds mysticism and reverence.

And there are many dance images to savour: the ferocious stamping, turning and gesturing that depicts the angry sage Durvasa hurling his curse at Ganga; the beautiful patterns of classical Bharatanatyam dance in adoration of Ganga by the sages; Shiva bringing Ganga to Earth and the accompanying swirling dance of the Seven Storms; the solos of the Seven Streams, each rendered with individualized mood and movement.

Particularly moving is the poignancy of Bhaghiratha's prayers to Brahma and Shiva, manifested in eloquent pleading arms and supplicant body positions. And the king's fervent desire for Ganga to come to Earth to wash away the ashes of his ancestors truly touches the heart.

Khendry's 18-member, multicultural company is comprised of attractive and well-disciplined dancers.

The luminous Kala Vageesan is an exquisite Ganga, with every part of her body alive to the dance. She is able to convey an ethereal yet very human goddess at the same time. As the prayerful Bhaghirahta, Seshadri Iyengar is manly grace - lyrical yet forceful - while Hemant Panwar shows his powerful personality as both the vengeful Durvasa and the commanding Shiva. And at 73, Khendry can still hold his own on the stage in his several small roles, particularly as an empathetic Brahma.

One hopes that Khendry will find his essential Ganga. She is there in this production, just waiting to be unlocked.

Ganga continues at Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre until tomorrow.

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