The Indian dance performance collective The Kathak Ensemble & Friends returns to New York this spring in an all new Indian-influenced contemporary dance work speaking to the universal repression of women. Based on the eight groundbreaking (Pakistani) Urdu poems first published in 1990, WE SINFUL WOMEN will premiere at Danspace Project, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, 131 East 10th Street, Thursday, March 2 through Saturday March 4 at 8pm, with an artist Q/A following the performance on Friday, March 3.
Created by Kathak Ensemble & Friends Artistic Director Janaki Patrik, the work will feature six female dancers and original commissioned music by two-time Canadian Grammy winner and composer Kiran Ahluwalia.
In WE SINFUL WOMEN, Janaki Patrik seeks to give voice, through melody and movement, to the words of the female Urdu poets Ishrat Aafreen, Kishwar Naheed, Zehra Nigah and Fahmida Riaz. Protesting the suffocating repression in their physical and emotional lives, these poets courageously wrote with both confrontational anger and ecstatic lyricism.
Combining classical and modern genres from far and wide have become a norm among artists in the greater New York City area and beyond. Schooled in Indian music, these artists combine not just Eastern and Western music, but also the traditional and modern music from different countries including in Africa and Latin America.
According to Ms. Patrik, “I was first introduced to WE SINFUL WOMEN while at Columbia University studying Indic languages, and the poems resonated. I tried to create a work not about the polish and speed of classical Kathak, but about women’s fierce assertion of their selfhood. Each poem projects it’s own distinct mood – humorous, sad, ironic, romantic, tongue-in-cheek, triumphant. Musical accompaniment is similarly unique for each poem: COUNTERCLOCKWISE starts with the sound of a tape rewinding; JURAT is sung in the intimate style developed in a 19th Century mehfil (gathering); IMAGE/Reflection is structured like a question-answer straight out of North Indian classical music.
“This is not classical Indian dance. And the poets do not consider their texts “feminist” poetry either. Instead the dance, poetry and music join in expressing what it is to be a woman – her tender feelings, her pride, her resistance to efforts to destroy her selfhood, her sadness at consistent denigration by those in power – whether political or religious – who made it impossible for her to worship, love, create and even live with an open heart,” she said.
According to composer Kiran Ahluwalia, “for each poem I listened to Janaki’s ideas of the type of movement that it suggested to her, the images that she associated with it, and the mood that it elicited for her. This is a daring project and it is challenging to put such politically charged text to dance and even to music – but Janaki has unique ideas for the poems and her vision inspired me in composing the melodies and rhythms.”
First published in 1990 in Lahore, Pakistan, and in 1991 in London, the poetry collection WE SINFUL WOMEN (edited by Rukhsana Ahmad) gave a glimpse of the situation in which women had few rights, and their dance and poetry were considered blasphemous. The production embodies the outrage and tenderness encapsulated in the concentrated language of poetry and dance.
KATHAK has its roots in North Indian village storytelling. It’s vocabulary of gestures and facial expressions are perfectly suited to representing the emotions and situations in these poems. This March 2-4, her dance troupe, Kathak Ensemble & Friends, presents “We Sinful Women” at Danspace Project, St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.