Bodies of meaning

Melinda Rose Jewell: Rakini Devi, Kali Yuga

Kali Yuga

Kali Yuga

Kali Yuga

‘Cross-cultural’ was the theme of the night as I stepped off a busy Church Street full of Parramatta Eels fans streaming towards a football game, into the alternate world of the Parramatta Riverside Theatre and the world of Rakini Devi’s Indian dance performance Kali Yuga.

A man and woman appear on a screen, indecipherable text scrolling over their dancing bodies. The classical Indian movement makes me conscious of the transmission of ancient knowledge through the body. The unreadable words remind me of the inaccessible mysteries of another culture.

The lighting reveals a dozen or so female dancers, their movement apparently traditional, legs and arms turned out, finite articulation of fingers and feet, the poise of reverence. Words, now in English, scroll across the screen, telling of the cycle of life and the war between the lovers and enemies of knowledge. The music is tense, the postures and movement war-like, particularly 2 superb male dancers, whose legs swish through the air like swords, filling the space with angular and whirling lines, juxtaposed at times with quiet, intricate, imploring movements. The women step sideways, backs to the audience, twisting around, each reaching out an arm towards us.

The costumes echo the martial theme. Hands, feet, eyes are painted in blood red, mouths covered with black sashes. The binary of seeing but silent eyes, and peerless but speaking mouths seems reversed, particularly when the women, while performing backbends, present inverted faces to the audience. The eyes look like red mouths, ‘speaking’ to us, penetrating the inky audience space. The program note tells us that Rakini Devi is concerned with the “sacred” and “taboo” as they affect women. At this point the silence of the female dancers is emphasised, but their eyes suggest they know of the blackness of war, death, injustice and unhappiness.

All of the dancers performed with passion and technical proficiency. A mesmerising solo by Katy Alexandra Macdonald was particularly exhilarating. She appeared as the god Shiva, legs crossed, arms resting on her knees, thumb and forefingers together. Such was her power and the intricacies of her movement I felt she was actually speaking with the infinite tones and inflections of an articulate voice.

There are many ways of knowing, and by the end of Kali Yuga I was no longer grasping for meaning. Rather, my eyes were riveted to the multiple tongues of limbs and fingers, eyes, unspeaking mouths, speaking bodies—singing bodies.

Kali Yuga, Rakini Devi, dancers Kenny Feather, Nelson Requera, Katy Alexandra Macdonald, Cherie Goddard, Miranda Wheen and students of the University of Western Sydney, Paramatta Riverside Theatre, May 19-22

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 38

© Melinda Rose Jewell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2004