Her sense of rhythm is impeccable, as displayed in her brilliant concluding tillanna and parts of her varnam. The varnam is a rich form, the heart of most solo programs in this style. The dancer alternates flashing passages of footwork with poetic sections. But drama and dancing also mingle subtly in this varnam. Shivalingappas face and hands and body tell fragments of a story of creation and destruction. They say word; they paint a picture on the air, flutter like birds, play an invisible sitar, draw a bow, crest like ocean wave. And often she seems to ask confirmation from us: Is it not so?
Lovely as Shivalingappa is, her choice of theme and dances doesnt exploit her full range. In her poem-dance Jaavali, shes adorably innocent and fluttery as a young girl who, feeling love for the first time, questions a friend about it (Is it the cool breeze, or my heart, which makes my body shiver so?). But one brief moment in her tillana, which is dedicated to Shiva, shows us something else; suddenly Shivalingappas face contorts in some kind of divine rage; her body tenses. I think of other Indian artists whove performed at Jacobs Pillow, like Malavika Sarukkai andyears agoRitha Devi, and the variety of emotions they expressed. Id like to see how Shivalingappa explores jealousy, grief, passion, indecision, spiritual fulfillment, and all the other feelings that vibrate in the universe.