We traveled to Newport RI for a triumphant cultural exploration A Bridge Together, part of Bridgefest, featuring millennial twins Sara and Riya Kapoor.
Serving as a pointed segue between the significant Newport Folk Festival and the more atmospheric Newport Jazz Festival, Newport Festivals Foundation’s Bridgefest– now in its second year- offers music enthusiasts an opportunity to enjoy the week between the two nationally-renowned events. Bridgefest makes Newport an even more persuasive music destination by offering four additional days of music. The culmination of this was Newport Festivals Foundation’s Bridgefest’s A Bridge Together, an International Music and Dance Event Connecting American Jazz, African Beats and Indian Carnatic Music.
In a world presently occupied with political sensitivity and questions of appropriate use, A Bridge Together serves as a palate-clensing exercise in cultural exploration. It’s an opportunity to remind the world that we- as cliche as it sounds- come from one central place, and shared expressions can take place in a positive and respectful manner.
Taking place at Fort Adams State Park in historic Newport- the vibrant center of the festival activity- A Bridge Together offered spectators a world-class performance with a complete program, tapping various elements of global dance and sound.
Initiated by “The First Beat,” there is a tense yet charming opening featuring the blending of Indian Classical and traditional West African genres. The djembe was handled by Boubacar Diabate, who’s deft control was imitated by a mridangam and tabla in a playful and intricate volley of sound. This became increasingly elaborate, as more instruments joined in, including western sounds like guitar and drums.
It became awash in a variety of sounds that the ear could opt to cling to and let go of at anytime- the high shoot of a flute played by award-winning Jay Gandhi (who was an apprentice of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia). His bansuri would occasionally rise above the other sounds in a triumphant design, purely celebratory and joyful.
If a spectator took anything from the performance, it’s one of amazement of the raw talent. The effortless nature of the playing only validates the recognition and renown these individual artists have received.
With musicians anchoring either side of the stage, vocalizations and tossing of sounds offer a unique playfulness and genuinely entertaining theatre- the display of an understanding of why something works: the distinguishing factor between a great instrumentalist and a good one. The element of surprise offered spectators the thrill of simply watching the performance as much as hearing it- smiles- laughs- palpable love of sound. A certain note hit just right- the strum and drum at a carefree syncopated pace, or the refreshment from a wave of expert guitar work by Rez Abbasi.
That’s not to mention the exhilaration of seeing legendary Swati Bhise confidently conduct and choreograph from her regal perch- everything from her curious way of keeping time to throwing her hands- and the energy- across a room with perfect precision.
The “ay’s” have it with the special patience the Kapoor sisters embody. Serving as the focal point of the second half of A Bridge Together, Sara and Riya, both 17 years of age, have trained under Swati Bhise for over a decade, earning experience in Indian classical dance, Sara particularly advancing in squash and vocal skills in Hindustani and western varieties, and Riya exploring ballet and West African approaches.
For A Bridge Together, the twins assemble in the Bharatanatyam tradition, the preeminent Indian dance form. Sara and Riya incorporate a comprehensive and exacting approach to this art, which, when successfully executed, requires an extraordinary handle on balance, an anatomically-strenous demonstration of precise footwork, constant spacial and peripheral awareness, as well as an ability to be in total synchronization with any and all additional dancers, at all times.
Moreover, Riya and Sara, occupying the most traditional form of Bharatanatyam dancing, must be able to communicate stories of legend through this dance, as manifested through lively facial expressions, complex jumps, enduring moments of perfect stillness, and triumphant symbolism. The Kapoor sisters, having performed under Bhise at Symphony Space, the revered Chidambaram temple in India and the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., could serve as a case study in how to master the craft at such a young age.
There was little more satisfying than to watch the Kapoor sisters explore the sounds and the important traditions, donning long-established dress and perfect makeup, it became quickly obvious that the dance is more than just fancy kicks and hops- the Kapoor’s balance is extraordinary- Riya maintaining a gravity-defying position for at least a minute- their footwork beyond precise- all feet landing at the proper angle nearly every time, even jumps, wide-eyes, smiles and grimaces were expertly timed.
George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival saw the raw talent in the Kapoor sisters, too. In fact, he was responsible for bringing them into the auspices of the event, after he saw them perform at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Ultimately a study in graceful proportion, it seemed like little could trouble the Kapoor sisters.
As the performance came to a close, the sisters were joined by West African dancer and choreographer Maguette Camara, dancer Leonardo Brito De Mendonsa, Boubacar Diabate, and percussionist Kavi Kapoor for a extraordinary finale that incorporated all sounds in an improvised celebration- a masterful ode to the joys of culture and humanity.
A free event, attendees of A Bridge Together included George Wein, founder of Newport Jazz Festival and co-founder of Newport Folk Festival, American Express CEO Kenneth Irvine Chenault and many others. The performance was followed by a private cast-party hosted by the Kapoor family at historical Ochre Point, a legacy home on the Newport gold coast.