Daksha Sheth’s innovative body theater in Athens

The Daksha Sheth Dance Company presents innovative choreography combining traditional Indian dance, yoga, acrobatics, martial arts and what is known as body theater at Athens’s Coronet Theater. The founder and artistic director of the company, who gave it her own name, became well-known in India as a dancer of Kathak, a traditional Indian dance that originated in the north of the country. «Somewhere along the way I changed direction,» she said, explaining that the shift greatly confused Indian audiences, her fans included. Today, Sheth lives in Kerala, in southern India, with her husband – the group’s producer – and their 18-year-old daughter. «I don’t know if you are aware of the fact that Chinese and Japanese martial arts originated in India. I have studied various non-traditional techniques, such as modern dance, acrobatics using ropes and body theater. My work is a combination of traditional Indian dance and of martial arts movements.» «There are thousands of artists and many dance festivals in India, but 98 percent of them only perform traditional Indian dances,» said Sheth. «Lately, however, dance groups experimenting with contemporary dance have sprung up and it is fascinating.» One of Sheth’s aims is to approach young people. «Judging from my daughter, I can tell that young people in India today are tired of traditional Indian dances. They are just not interested in mythology.» Her first performances as in independent artist were very controversial and for the first few years attendance was low. Local audiences were put off by the minimal clothing worn by her dancers, by the rock music often used and by the sensuality of her choreography. Traditional Indian choreography, though based on love themes, has never included any direct contact between the man and woman on stage. Sheth, who founded her dance group in 1992, reversed this tactic by incorporating intense bodily contact into her work. The performance in Athens is in two parts. The first one, «Sarpagati» (The Path of the Snake), is based on the ancient tradition of snake worship. The movements, accompanied by flute music, resemble a ritual, and Sheth describes the show as very sensual. «This choreography is about earth, water and fire. It is dedicated to the path of the snake, which is the symbol of the primitive force behind the movement of every being. This movement takes place through the first, the second and the third chakra,» she said. The second part, «Bhukman» (The Circus of Earth and Sky), is entirely different. One of the group’s most recent productions, it is intense and lively. It is a celebration of the beginning of the new millennium, Sheth explains. Daksha Sheth Company at the Coronet Theater, 11 Frynis & Hymettou, tel 210.701.2511. To Feb. 19.