Gamaka by Shantala Shivalingappa


Last week I went to see the first of two very different (or what I have been told will be very different) shows put on by Shantala Shivalingappa. From the promotional material produced by the promoters, Danse Danse, I got an idea that the first show was going to be some kind of Indian Classical Dance. But like Brian Seibert I haven’t seen much Indian Classical Dance. However, as I read his review before going to see Ms. Shivalingappa (normally I try to avoid doing things like that, tabula rasa, low expectations, etc.)


I got kind of excited, as I imagine anyone holding tickets to a performance would feel after reading the review. And after seeing Ms. Shivalingappa I can kind of understand what Mr. Seibert saw and why he got so excited, although I think I need to develop some sort of deeper understanding of Kuchipudi before I end up going overboard like he did.

These are excerpts from the program I think that he saw. As far as my memory (which shouldn’t be trusted, and my notes which should) there were changes made to the program for the performance in Montreal.


Since it is unlikely that I am going to instantaneously develop a deeper understanding of Kuchipudi (go on, say it outloud, it’s a great word, way better spoken than read) I’m going to have to rely on what I can find on the good old internet. Here, and here with video examples, unusually, the wikipedia page is useless.

In a nutshell, it’s old, very old. It got saved from obscurity by this dude Vempati Chinna Satyam, there are very specific movements that have lots of significance. And to my eyes it shares an awful lot with folk dancing.

I could probably spend the rest of my life studying Kuchipudi, but I think it would be better spent, at least in the near future, by actually trying to describe Ms. Shivalingappa’s movements and more importantly what her movements made me think and feel.

Because in doing the research, I realized that the way that I normally approach dance was completely bassackwards. Where I normally try to go in with absolutely no expectations, refusing to read the program or press releases until after the preformance, I should not have done that this time.

Each and every one of Ms. Shivalingappa’s dances told a story, but stupid me, didn’t pay attention while the story was being explained, so where she was trying to make it fairly simple for me to understand, I instead insisted on keeping my blinders on, being pigheaded and insisting that I knew best.

Yeah, right! Remind me next time.

Since I refused to follow the stories, all I had left was trying to understand the movements, which in and of themselves are incredibly simple. So simple, that I am convinced, 100% certain that my almost two year old nephew could do them. Just in case you missed it the first time around, go back and watch this video.


You see? There isn’t anything terrible complex. Some moves like she’s telling me that she’ll call me, a couple of others like a football player blocking, or when she extends her arms from the blocking position, like a football cheerleader (minus the pom-poms).

But then if you compare it to another Kuchipudi performance


You can pretty much completely glom what makes Ms. Shivalingappa’s performance and by extension Ms. Shivalingappa special. I can talk all I want until I am blue in the face about execution, but unless you can see and compare for yourself, all I’m going to be, in the end, is blue in the face (although since I’ve stopped smoking, it takes a lot longer…)

Now to go back a little bit, there was one point in Out of White where Francine Liboiron did something incredible and amazing with her legs while lying on the floor. While I am incapable of describing what she did (somehow, “twisting and turning her legs” just doesn’t cut it) I can remember the sensation (sort of like a combination of my breath just stopping, my chin hitting the floor and wiping my eyes after it was done to make sure I was not seeing things).


Well it happened again. And again, “twisting and turning her hands” just won’t cut it. But this time I found myself cursing the cameraman who just was too slow to catch the moment. Thankfully I got to see it in person, and it did take my breath away, I have the bruise on my chin and my eyes did get rubbed. If you have a chance run, don’t walk to see Ms. Shivalingappa do her Kuchipudi thing.

And while Kuchipudi, to my eye, doesn’t have or do anything terribly complex, as I said, it’s kind of like folk dancing. But after having spent weeks, days, hours, a little bit of time doing some research on the internet, I gotta admit the head, neck and eye moves involved in Kuchipudi really turn my crank.

I know how to shake my head from side to side, normally I do it about seventeen dozen times a day (despite being a positive person, historically my first response is always “no.”) but one thing I have never been able to figure out is that side to side head shake where your head doesn’t pivot on your neck, but more, slides along your shoulders. It is a stereotypical move for Indian Dance, although I have no freaking clue how it fits into the Kuchipudi tradition. Well, anytime, any y-chromosome challenged person does that head slide, I get all weak in the knees, my body pretty much turns to jelly and I will gladly follow she who can slide her head along her shoulders just about anywhere. That all being said, Ms. Shivalingappa’s head slides just about had me melting into my seat.

There are these videos of Ms. Shivalingappa from eight years ago




I’m not certain where I was in 2003, but I wish I would have been there. As it is, I’m going to have to satisfy myself by wishing that I could write as well as Joan Acocella; not only does she know scads more about Kuchipudi and Ms. Shivalingappa, but I wish I could describe a sari half as well as she does.

And then finally, if you’d like some background on why Ms. Shivalingappa does what she does so spectacularly, there is this interview with her mom


For what it is worth, I’ve got some expectations about her non-classical Indian dance performance coming up.

4 thoughts on “Gamaka by Shantala Shivalingappa”

  1. Sublime !
    D’habitude la musique indienne m’emmerde royalement. Mais là c’est un vrai plaisir de l’écouter en admirant cette dame qui danse si gracieusement. Je ne m’en lasse pas !

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