Glimpses of the alluring sweetness and serenity of classical dance from the isolated northeastern Indian state of Manipur are rare in Los Angeles, where India is most often represented by its dynamic Southern idioms. But a carefully wrought program titled "Harao-Kummei: Joyful Celebrations in Dance" brought a sampling of Manipuri traditions to the Fountain Theater on Saturday.
With choreography and music (on tape) credited to the late Bipin Singh, the performance showcased Sohini Ray and members of her locally based Manipuri Dance Visions Ensemble, focusing on refined statements of Hindu and pre-Hindu devotion.
The celebratory "Khubak Ishei" included a procession bringing a portable shrine onto the stage but centered on three women (two dancing in unison, one independently) clapping their hands as they performed hopping steps and other movements in place. Like the other pieces on the program, it was accompanied by an unidentified female vocalist backed with strong rhythms, most often treble-drums and cymbals.
The "Basant Ras" excerpt from a temple ritual showed the god Krishna at play with gopi women -- cattle-wranglers, though you'd never have guessed it from their intricately layered, bejeweled costumes with distinctive tubular skirts. The gestural delicacy and vivacity of the interplay sometimes yielded to moments of virtuosity: a circuit of turns on her knees by Ray as Krishna, for example. More often, the graceful spinning of the gopis and the deft sorties of Krishna made the piece a sublime flirtation game.
Krishna's wooing of Radha (Krishnakali Dasgupta) gave the piece a dramatic context also underpinning the charming solo "Sakshat Darshan," in which Ray described with her hands, facial expressions and rhythmic footwork Radha's first date with the god. The intimacy of the Fountain Theater proved ideal for appreciating a dance that relied on the accumulation of pantomimic detail more than the execution of steps or any movement in space.
That intimacy also served 9-year-old Dasni Lakpriya in "Maibi Jagoi," a pre-Hindu festival dance featuring simple body-sways, skip-steps, fluttering hands and a few bold reaches that swept down to the floor and then up over her head.
Introductions by Bravish Rau helped explain the cultural background of the pieces and their expressive content.
Besides the dancers previously mentioned, the company included Naila Azad and Alma Cielo.