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Indian American attracts rave reviews for fusion dance

Chicago-based Siri Sonty is winning accolades for fusing Kuchipudi and Spanish Flamenco dance forms.

india Updated: Nov 02, 2005 17:26 IST

A second generation Indian American is winning rave reviews for performing a "fusion dance" of Kuchipudi and Spanish dance Flamenco.

Dancer Siri Sonty, whose parents immigrated from Hyderabad, is a student working simultaneously towards an MD and a Ph.D at the Northwestern University.

Sonty got interested in flamenco when she visited Spain in 1998 and was struck by similarities between the Spanish dance form and Indian classical dance.

She was so fascinated with flamenco that after returning to Chicago she began the search for a likely dance partner.

"I googled Spanish dancers in Chicago and Wendy Clinard was the first to respond to my e-mail," Sonty said.

On stage, the similarities between the two dancers are striking, as are the differences. Clinard is intense, with her brow furrowed. Her hair and her eyelashes seem to move with her swoops and stomps. The mood is sombre, for her piece depicts loneliness and loss.

The contrast with Sonty's persona on stage is quite apparent.

"Kuchipudi forces you to interact with the audience," said Sonty.

For Clinard, Indian classical dance is not entirely new territory. "I lived in New York with a Bharatanatyam dancer as my roommate. I got to be familiar with the dance and the instrumentation," she said.

The Sonty-Clinard partnership had a long gestation period. "It took us two years to produce the hybrid version, with the production itself taking six months," said Clinard.

The two years were also spent in each getting to know the other.

After 14 performances in Chicago and the suburbs, both say the fusion show has not yet found its final form. "Each environment dictates a bit of redefinition," said Clinard.

The response from audiences has been very encouraging. "At one of the performances there was a 65-year old man and his 12-year old son on the edge of their seats. It is gratifying to touch people across age."

The dance, with the music composed exclusively for the performance, culminates in a "meditative assemblance" of slowly enlarging ink dots - symbolising the large number of lives lost in the tsunami of December 2004.

The fusion has evolved with the addition of live musicians from India and a group from "Las Guitarras de Espana" or the guitars of Spain.

For Sonty, it has been a rewarding partnership and a challenging one, not the least because of the pressures on her time. She said her dance practice "ebbs and flows" according to her schedule at college.

"But now that I am half-way through my MD, my schedules are a lot more flexible."

First Published: Nov 02, 2005 10:51 IST