Review: JheeSha Productions’ Balance at FringeArts

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by Natalie Gainer for The Dance Journal

Two women gaze intently over their left shoulders, seemingly enthralled by some unseen wonder, as a soft light pours through a vast window onto them. They are surrounded by concrete and empty space, yet their assertive poses seem to fill the enormous warehouse in which they are pictured. This image and several others adorned the small upper floor of the Philadelphia Arts Alliance on Friday, September 9 as one facet of JheeSha Productions’ interdisciplinary piece, Balance. The Kathak performance, choreographed by Sharrie Lister Booker and Jheel Mehta, weaved together photography and dance, narrative and abstraction, the traditional and the contemporary in an exploration of life’s many off-kilter moments.

Balance transformed the upper floor of the Arts Alliance into a rather welcoming gallery and performance space. The gallery showcased the meticulous photography of Sam Interrante and featured the two choreographers in traditional Kathak garb in the midst of non-traditional spaces–dusty warehouses, cobblestone paths, and peaceful, tree-lined streets. As viewers circulated the gallery, they were invited into a highly personal exploration of each stage of the choreographers’ lives, from birth to adulthood. The intimacy of the small space and of the art presented therein was made more tangible by the audience’s proximity to the artists: Mehta, Lister Booker, and Interrante perused the photos alongside their patrons, chatting with them and inviting them to become enveloped by the piece’s personal nature from their first steps into the performance space.

Mehta and Lister Booker carried this strong sense of intimacy throughout Balance. The piece’s musical score, composed by Jomy George, projected the dancers’ voices over the music as they recounted short but poignant stories from their lives. The underlying theme of these miniature stories was the instability of life, from the many confusions of adolescence to the wonders and pains of parenthood. The choreography responded to these stories variously. At times, the performers moved abstractly, their bodies seeming to have only a symbolic connection to the narratives their voices recited. For example, the piece began with the two dancers crouching tightly to the ground. As the music grew, so did they, rising slowly from the floor as they intertwined their bodies and supported one another’s weight in a seeming representation of their own enmeshed lives. At other times, they moved rather theatrically, acting out the stories they recited. These very literal moments sometimes verged on cliché; yet, alongside the abstract moments, they served to steer the audience’s minds toward the realistic, familiar nature of these narratives of imbalance. As Mehta and Lister Booker danced out moments of familial arguments, adolescent angst, and artistic crises they allowed the audience to relate to these very personal yet nearly universal moments of unsteadiness. Thus, they invited viewers even further into the intimate portraits that Interrante’s photographs portrayed.

With their movements and their voices, Jheel Mehta and Sharrie Lister Booker invited their audience to share in a few of their lives’ most uncertain moments. In collaboration with Sam Interrante and Jomy George, the dancers created a poignant piece that emphasized intimacy through multiple artistic media. Despite its occasional trite moment, Balance keenly engaged its audience in its interdisciplinary exploration of instability.

***Photo courtesy of FringeArts