What is Sufi Kathak? As the Indian dancer Manjari Chaturvedi made abundantly clear during her New York debut at Symphony Space on Tuesday, Sufi Kathak is a dance style invented by Manjari Chaturvedi. It borrows from Kathak, an Indian classical dance with both Hindu and Muslim roots, to express the mysticism of Sufi poetry and music.
The solo performance, presented by the Indo-American Arts Council, did not lack for explanation. Before each of the eight sections the offstage voice of Ms. Chaturvedi described what was coming and how it was innovative, recited poetry in multiple languages, translated it into English and glossed it. This was helpful, though absurdly long-winded, especially when the explanations included infomercials about the Sufi Kathak Foundation, a charity for Sufi musicians.
Among the many definitions of Sufi Kathak offered, the most salient was Ms. Chaturvedi’s assertion that the dance was a physical working out of one idea: the presence of the Almighty. Devotionally this single-mindedness may be a virtue. Theatrically it was a problem.
Ms. Chaturvedi also described the whole show as a progression from an earthly, fleshly love to a divine, formless one. Yet although Ms. Chaturvedi began by depicting a narcissistic woman adorning herself, it took no more than 10 minutes into the two-hour program for the woman to have a religious awakening. So much for progression.
Instead there was repetition. Time and again Ms. Chaturvedi directed mildly coquettish gestures of affection to the space above the audience’s head, hiding her face behind her hands and peeking out. (This, she said, embodied the traditional Sufi analogy between submission to God and a bride’s submission to her husband.) Time and again she spun. (This derived from the meditative technique of Sufi dervishes.)