Amala Shankar- Goddess Parvati personified (1919-2020)

Memory makes strange connections. The oldest memory of my first Guru Amala Shankar is inextricably linked with my childhood memories of Kolkata-it’s unbearably hot and humid summer mornings, Park Street, and dance classes. This is where the journey started for a wide eyed 7-year-old. It was a blazing hot summer morning on a Sunday. I found myself in a large hall at a Park Street address. My parents had brought me to enrol me into Amala Shankar’s dance school- the Uday Shankar India Cultural Centre.

I had no idea who Amala Shankar was and what was I meant to be doing with her. I did understand that it was something related to learning dance. From a 7-year old’s memory, I can also vaguely remember the impression that the first day had created. I was awestruck watching Amala Shankar teach a class of girls standing in rows. A small group of musicians seated on a rug on the floor in the corner of that central hall. The entire setting was overpowering to my young mind. What I did not know then that this was to be a start of a journey. What I would learn here from my teacher, whom I just saw was to determine my creative path of life.  When we are in the moment, we do not know how pivotal that instance could turn out to be. Now I realise how seminal that moment was in my life.

Fast forward 30 years! I was in Kolkata on my annual visit to India. It was a cosy winter morning and I was sitting face to face with a still graceful 95-year-old Amala Shankar. Life had come full circle and I was seeking to understand more deeply the roots of my dance form. I was interviewing her as part of my research work for my project on Uday Shankar’s heritage.

We talked about Uday Shankar at length, how he could spot the talent in her when she was a young girl in her teens, how Uday Shankar, his dance and his entire persona appealed to her. We talked about Zohra Sehgal and her sister Uzra while they were a part of Uday Shankar’s dance group , the days in Almora, her dear friend in the family Ravi Shankar, who was more a friend and a brother than a brother -in-law. Her first visit to Paris with her father. How enchanted she has been with the Manipuri dance style always. She talked about how graceful she thought her daughter Mamata Shankar has been and a fiery dancer her daughter-in-law Tanusree Shankar remembering her act in one of her dance dramas, when both were young learners under her tutelage. Hours passed. We were lost in time. She took us back a century and gradually brought us to the present through her stories. There were instances where she was phasing out, it was 2014, and she was 95. There were instances where I was waiting till she would talk again. I did ask her to show a few moves while sitting and I would copy her like I did as a child in her classes. She agreed, I could not believe it was happening yet again.  I remembered the hours of painstaking work she put in those weekend classes trying to instill the various nuances of her dance in her students. Now she did some arm movements to my request. When I copied her, she did not say much but there was a gesture of appreciation in her eyes. That is more than enough for me, a nod from my first guru that will continue to inspire me.

My journey with the Uday Shankar Dance style started under her tutelage. At that tender age I could see a light in her eyes. I just knew she was so different from everyone else. Did not identify what it was. At that time, I guess I was more focused on learning dance. I distinctly remember the individual attention she gave to every student, despite large class sizes. She made us repeat each movement endlessly till she was satisfied that we had internalised them. I did not quite understand then what she was looking for and sometimes found the bar impossibly high. Much later in life, when I saw her dance sequences in Kalpana repeatedly, I realised what it was. It is that moment of oneness between body and soul that would radiate through every part of your body, every gesture, and every facial expression. In her dance sequences in Kalpana, we could see the intricate details that add up to these divine moments – her sensual walk while flicking the hem of her skirt, the fluidity of her arm movements and most importantly the eyes.  Those remarkably expressive eyes that could instantly switch between murderous rage to a meditative calm.  She was Goddess Parvati personified. She was a carved temple Yakshi of ancient India come alive.

It was not just dance but the many facets of life and creativity that she touched upon gracefully. Amala Shankar a cultural icon of India was a trendsetter. She had a unique magic to her movements. The woman who was profoundly a part of Uday Shankar’s life, dance and legacy. She went further to build on the dance style and continue the legacy through the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre that she ran in Kolkata, India until 1995.  She lives on through her art. My “Pranaam” to the legend Amala Shankar.

Protima Chatterjee

(Image used may be subject to copyright. Thank you for uploading on public domain)

 

Mavin Khoo & Temple of Fine Arts at Darbar Festival 2019, Sadler’s Wells, 25 Nov

It would not be an exaggeration to say that with the Temple of Fine Arts Inner Space Dance Mavin Khoo has created one of his finest choreographic works. This Bharata Natyam based retelling of three pivotal scenes from the epic Ramayana hits several highs. The all male group of eight Bharata Natyam dancers flow in unison to deliver a sensational impact. The story of Rama has a powerful hold in India and South East Asia. As can be seen in Indian literature and different versions of it in South East Asia, there are several perspectives, most of which eulogise Rama but some eulogise Ravana and Indrajit. Mavin Khoo and his dancers do a remarkable depiction of Ravana as the Shiva worshipping ascetic and Rudra Veena player. It is also fitting to the grandeur and far reaching cultural and historical influence of the epic that the Malaysian dancers bring to life using an Indian classical dance form.

The dancers’ mastery of technique and their perfect expressions lend a cosmic energy to the piece. The audience is held in a trance where mind connects with the spirit. The dancers project an ineffable mystical vibe. Immaculate lines, carved sculptural postures and intense footwork with ankle bells strongly uphold the aesthetics of classical Bharatnatyam, yet it departs from the widely seen conventional presentations, in a beautifully creative way. It opens new realms in the presentation of classical Bharatnatyam. There are multiple layers in the movements corresponding with the elements of war, rage, revenge and destruction in the storyline, drawn from the three episodes of abduction, sea crossing and eventual slaying of the demon God-Ravana. With a strong essence of martial masculinity in the movements Khoo has succeeded in creating his own style of positioning Bharatnatyam in response to the male caste and theme. Light design is dramatic and contemporary, and the dancers are clad in less elaborate costumes. One is dazzled by pure dance and the accompanying live music more than anything else.

Abduction of Sita, the building of the bridge by Rama’s monkey army and the killing of Ravana form the base of the choreographic theme. It is a unique rendition of the alternate perspective of Ravana who is worshipped as a lord in certain parts of South East Asia. It implants a sense of awe for this otherwise commonly believed negative character in the traditional epic. Sections in the choreography leave a deep impression. Ravana known as a maestro of the Veena is seen strumming the chords through a series of movements. His musical notes are heard and felt, such is the power of Mavin’s choreography and the strength of the performers. He is a Yogi immersed in his calm Yagna with eyes closed while the monkey army build the bridge to bring Rama across the ocean to Lanka. This is a commendable section where the calm of the yogi is in a fierce contrast to the frantic and restless army of monkeys. The monkey portrayal could not have been more convincing- at one point you could forget that they are human dancers on stage. Achieving this through a group choreography of classical Bharata Natyam, without one bit being over the top is a feat on its own. Ravana believed as a devotee of Lord Shiva is felt reflecting Shiva’s energy when he is in his frenzied wrath fighting Rama and his army and is finally slain.

Mostly dancing in unison, the dancers immerge as one being, the strong and imposing Ravana, the demon lord of Lanka with 10 heads in a spellbinding end. They become one soul and one body with those pairs of eyes glaring with rage at the audience-it completely takes you in. Their arms flicking out of that one body of the demon lord with palms painted in red. Clad in fiery red dhotis the chiselled body of the dancers show every sinew of their muscles in fierce action. Their clenched teeth, raised brows, sometimes opened jaws and a war call portray Ravana’s wrath when encountered by Rama.

Special mention to the synchronicity of the choreography with the live music ensemble-vocals and instruments. The accompanying score, the choreography and the dancers went from strength to strength to make a triumphant impact.

The performance was a  spiritually uplifting experience vividly appealing to the senses. Appreciation is extended to Darbar Festival for providing access to classical Indian dance and music in its varied and unique forms from around the world.

Review: Protima Chatterjee

Photo credit: Rehmat Rayatt

 

Bon Voyage,Bob by Alan Lucien Øyen with Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch – 22-25 Feb Sadlers Wells

Norwegian choreographer, director and award-winning playwright Alan Lucien Øyen has worked with the dancers of Company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. The result is Bon Voyage, Bob; a show that blends multiple disciplines into a surreal and charming theatre piece. Sixteen of the company’s dancers interact with the audience through dance, spoken text, singing, live chalk drawings and even a game of hangman.

Alan Lucien Øyen and Dimitris Papaioannou (whose piece ‘Since she’ was performed last week) are the first two choreographers to work with the company since Pina Bausch’s death in 2009. Whilst the choreographers have used different methods, there is a similarity in that both shows see the creation of two dream-like fantasies on stage. The fantasy of Bon Voyage, Bob draws closely to human events and experiences.

As the set is rotated, the audience is transported from kitchens to bedrooms to cafes in what seems like a limitless supply of scenes and scenarios. It is cleverly designed, and the peeling paint and wallpaper provides an intimate, lived-in feel. Adding to the charm, the retro-vintage style in the costumes is particularly eye-catching. There is one scene where the dancers glide across the stage in suits and ball gowns in a glamorous and glitzy ballroom scene.

The dancing in Bon Voyage, Bob is often showcased in a variety of solos and duets.  Here, the dancers are seamless and perform with an intense, lucid quality that involves striking hand gestures and a changing, melodic score. Stephanie Troyak moves beautifully and there is also a wonderful duet with angel wings included. In fact, these angel wings make regular appearances from a restaurant scene to quirky and impressive blackboard drawing.

Bon Voyage, Bob is full of surprises and a dancing human sized horse only adds to the show’s magic. In one unexpected moment, the lights are brought up and the audience are invited to play a game of hangman. Letters and words are shouted out as the bizarre and unusual world onstage is brought closer to the audience in their seats. There is a fun and light-heartedness in all of this but woven into the show is the topic of grief. This theme is often played out in different losses that appear as ethereal, dark or comedic in attitude. One of these scenarios is a text where the words “Did I ever tell you about your father? He was beautiful” are brought up in conversation and echoed throughout the performance. With the nature of the show’s creation it seems apt that some of these losses would relate to the passing of Pina Bausch herself.

Bon Voyage, Bob is abstract and comic, like watching a dance show, a play, and a movie all at once. The show is wrapped up with the dancers performing together in a beautiful, wintry finale.

Review by Eleanor Soflet

Photo credit: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (c) Uwe Schinkel

‘Since she’ by Dimitris Papaiannou-Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch-UK Premiere,14-17Feb Sadlers Wells

In honour of Pina Bausch’s tremendous impact on the dance world, Dimitris Papaioannou is the choreographer for Since she; a piece where the dancers weave their surroundings into a surreal dream-like atmosphere. The dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch perform the UK premiere of Since she at Sadler’s Wells. Since Pina Bausch’s passing in 2009, Dimitris Papaioannou is the first choreographer to add to the company’s repertoire with a brand-new, full-length piece.

Papaioannou has used myths and classical paintings as inspiration. These references are played out on stage with a variety of props that create a series of striking imagery. The chairs are particularly important here and pose a familiar resemblance to Pina Bausch’s work and the set of Café Müller comes to mind. They are used to journey the dancers across the stage in the show’s beginning and make regular appearances such as the use of a single chair in a simple but impressive balancing feat performed by Scott Jennings.

Since she is accompanied by a wide musical arrangement spanning from Greek folk music to Mahler. As the women grace the stage, they appear as if they are Greek goddesses with floating gowns and an ethereal presence. The piece shows a seriousness in a beautiful standout image where the dancers are seen slowly writhing down the set in what looks like an unusual dystopian vision that one could come across in a painting or a movie. Whilst there is a purity and serenity within these moments, the piece very cleverly involves different tones and surprises much to the audience’s entertainment.

Since she also bears a more racy and comical manner that sees glimpses of nudity flash across the stage. In one of these moments, Tsai-Wei Tien is modestly concealed with cardboard and an addition of five pairs of legs and she is later seen swivelling her feet in the most delightful and flirtatious way. The comedy and flirting also make its way into a voyage where all the dancers board two make-shift boats together.

There is often a reoccurring elegance and lustre that features in the decorum of the dancers, the glamourous changes in music and the revealed streaks of gold that makes its way into the dresses and finally the set as the dancers bring the show to a heart-warming close.

With the many emotions and adventures that Since she provokes, all 16 dancers demonstrate a theatricality that is profound in the delivery of Papaioannou’s style as well as its remarkable homage to Pina Bausch.

Reviewed by Eleanor Soflet

Photo credit: Julian Mommert

Nutcracker (Review) English National Balllet, London Coliseum, 13-30 Dec 2018

The English National Ballet’s production of Nutcracker is one of its pièce de résistance presented as a festive tradition since the 1950s. After its sold-out performances over the last two years, ENB’s Nutcracker created in 2010 is back this year at the London Coliseum, a perfect Christmas treat for the entire family.

Tchaikovsky’s haunting score always provides the best reason to view any Nutcracker production. Rina Kanehara’s captivating performance as Clara on the opening night along with a huge cast of over 100 dancers and musicians from the ENB philharmonic is awe- inspiring in this magnificient production, once again, this year.

The performance starts with an incredibly excited Clara and Freddie getting ready for the Christmas party along with their family. Outside people are ice skating in the frozen Thames. A warm and welcoming festive ambience is set up on stage amidst the snowy scene of a cold wintery December afternoon, both on stage and outside the auditorium.

The following Party sequence introduces the characters in the story and the ‘Nutcracker’, when gifts are exchanged. The dances of the puppet theatre lighten the atmosphere, providing the perfect party entertainment. It transports one to a traditional festive celebration in the last century. Dr. Drosselmeyer, the guest with the mysterious character, presents Clara with the nutcracker doll, and sets off the story to unfold.

In the quiet night ensues a battle between Clara’s Nutcracker and the Mouse King. A beautifully choreographed dream sequence of an organised chaos that is fun to look at, with dramatic victory and defeat danced to perfection.

The living room magically transforms into a winter wonderland, and Clara’s adventures begin. The nutcracker turns into Dr Drosselmeyer’s nephew. Clara and the nephew (Jeffrey Cirio) present an exquisite ‘pas de deux’ in the snow. This beautiful moment is not to last, however, as the Mouse King appears and pursues Clara in the snow. With the story tantalisingly poised at this point the show breaks for interval.

The second half begins with the dramatic balloon flight with Clara, Dr Drosselmeyer and his nephew, with the Mouse King, desperately trying to cling onto the side. A perfect treat for the young audience who look up in awe and wonder, following the balloon across with abated breath. From here the performance rises in grandeur with the introduction of the dancers from around the world. Short punchy pieces pick up the spirit. They are presented with perfect technique, rich characteristic choreography, wrapped in a colourful blanket of regional authenticity.

Clara’s elegant and astonishingly detailed pas de deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy, with the nephew as the Prince, is one of the major highlights of the production. The Sugar Plum fairy’s glistening costume with 400 Swarovski elements sewn in it is a visual treat, especially when her performance blends into the adorable dance of the snowflakes performed at an impressive scale – Altogether It’s a white wonder!

Wayne Eagling’s choreography is applauded from start to finish. Peter Farmer’s set design and David Richardson’s Lighting are inventive and draws a subtle distinction between the dream narrative and real life. The party scenes happen behind a mesh screen while the dream sequences come out in the front as if questioning the arbitrary dividing line between dream and real life.

The performance ends on a rather serene and happy note- Young Clara waking up in her bedroom and running outside with her brother to say goodbye to Dr Drosselmeyer and his nephew, walking away in the snow. After journeying with Clara in her dream on a floating balloon the audience is thus safely landed on a festive Christmas evening in the real world. A thoroughly enjoyable family entertainment and aspirational for the many young dancers in the audience.

Reviewd by Protima Chatterjee

Photo Credit: ENB/Laurent Liotardo

UK Premiere of Icon – (Review) GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Antony Gormley, Sadler’s Wells, 30 November 2018

As one of two UK premiers, Icon is performed at Sadler’s Wells in London for the very first time. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Anthony Gormley’s Icon is a collaboration of richly, detailed exuberance, where the dancers sculpt three and a half tonnes of clay into a spiritual dance that both creates and destroys. Performed by the companies Eastman and GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, 18 superb dancers describe a beautifully, elaborate yet excessive world that is strikingly familiar to our own.

Icon is Sidi Larbi’s second creation on GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. The show begins with the intriguing charm of small clay statues placed across the stage. That intriguing charm doesn’t last for long as the dancers’ enthralling entrance disrupts, tumbles and quite literally stamps out all of the statues into clay remains. Sidi Larbi and Anthony Gormley have always been able to transform sculptures into choreographic brilliance. In Icon, Gormley’s clay takes all manner of shapes including instruments, masks and statues. These clay shapes are treated as if they were promises and illusions as the clay is literally broken, dropped and destroyed before our eyes. Despite this, the audience are subjected to a spiritual purity, the kind that can only be seen in Sidi Larbi’s iconic, signature style of intricate hand gestures. These hand gestures are accompanied by a re-occurring, trance-like dialogue that is excellently spoken by the dancers on stage. Some notable performances include Kazutomi Kozuki, Verdiano Cassone and Patrick Williams who display an impressive lucidity with jaw-dropping details that awe their viewers.

Whilst, there is a seriousness embedded within Icon, its tone easily shifts into a bizarre and recognisable comedy. A humour that is shown in a wildly, sexual depiction of made-on-stage clay anatomy. This humour also makes its way into an oriental rendition of Sia’s pop song, Cheap Thrills. Here the dancers mime and socialise in an alternate everyday interaction, all whilst one dancer moves so effortlessly in a manner that is moulded like clay itself.  The musicians are faintly visible and at home behind the minimal, understatement of the set. They create a unique fusion of Japanese, Korean, Arabic and medieval music. The singers of Icon eventually seize the limelight by coming onto the stage. This moment is an operatic cultural blend that so often weaves its way into Sidi Larbi’s performances.

Icon paints a rich tapestry that describes the essence of humans’ unpredictable and ritualistic worship. The energy never ceases to amaze.

 

Reviewed by Eleanor Sofflet

Carmen La Cubana – Sadler’s Wells-1-18 August 2018 (Review)

Inspired by Georges Bizet’s Carmen,  Christopher Renshaw’s adaptation “Carmen La Cubana “is a heady mix of Cuban panache, warmth and vibrance. Set in pre-revolutionary Cuba in 1958 Carmen is a story of fierce passion. It is set on the edges of an emotional rollercoaster and political unrest where Jose kills for love and Carmen embraces death. Through Cuban dance and its seductive rhythms, the story of Carmen and Jose also unfolds a parallel story, portraying the cultural and political scene of the time.

Cuban dance never fails to engage its audience with its raw energy and spirited music. The imposing set reveals a Cuban neighbourhood with its dilapidated Baroque architecture, sweltering streets bubbling with trendy dancers, transporting you to the island of the Habaneros. The performance sets off with the storyteller with her folklores and tales that have shaped Cuba’s history and tradition. She tells her story in her deep voice gradually unfolding carmen’s story in different avatars. She introduces the audience to the characters and connects the scenes leading the audience through the story. Albita Rodriguez playing this character of La Senora is the backbone of the show. She is the voice of the performers and the director bringing it all together with her fierce performance.

Luna Manzanares Nardo as Carmen has a blazing presence in every scene. Carmen is an epitome of sensuous desire and free spirit-a rebellious and fearless non-conformist. She lives life on her own terms and challenges men with her mysterious sensuality. Nardo’s voice, appearance and performance rounds it all up to give us a phenomenal Carmen. Set against Carmen’s fiery demeanour is the calmer yet resilient soldier Jose (Saeed Mohamed Valdes). She covets him and seduces him into a love relationship. However her love is transient. She shifts her favours to another and ill treats Jose. Her passion is laced with a venomous bite and  bitterness. The different layers of Carmen’s personality is captured in a mature and gripping performance by Nardo.

The entire cast of very talented dancers and musicians have brought the Cuban spirit and culture alive in a 2 hours performance. Planting Bizet’s Carmen in Cuba adds some swagger to the production. Renshaw’s reflection of his experience in Cuba, unlike most visitors, is more intimate. His deeper understanding of its culture, spirit and noise with the underlying theme of political unrest and historical facts makes this a thoroughly enjoyable Cuban cultural product.

My First Ballet: Swan Lake-English National Ballet school inspires generation next

As the doors swung shut behind me I was greeted by a completely different scene at The Peacock theatre. It was the opening night of My first ballet- Swan Lake. The place was heaving with a very young audience and their parents. This was refreshingly different from the usual weeknight evening shows. English National Ballet School and English National Ballet created this delightful children’s adaptation of Swan Lake as part of their “My first ballet” series

As our young audience excitedly settle in, the occasional “mummy when will it start” Or, “I can’t wait to see the swans flying across” could be heard above the murmur. Faces are beaming with anticipation and expectation.

As the narrator steps on stage and greets everyone in, you could see the alert little ones  craning their necks above the sea of heads ahead to get a better view. The total focus and concentration of such a young audience goes to show the mesmerising hold such classic stories can have even in the era of digital addiction. You could almost hear deep breaths taken in awe with the first appearance of Odette, Odile and Rothbart behind a mesh screen. The story starts from a flash back moment where Odette and Odile are best friends and Rothbart’s ( Odile’s brother) love for Odette is spurned.. This is a slightly different version to the story but a very catchy and accessible content for little minds. With all the drama where the wizard Rothbart casts a spell on Odette and transforms her into a swan princess the audience is totally taken in by poor Odette’s misfortune. Odette -the damsel turns into a beautiful white swan with her shimmering plummet, sequined and jewelled tiara and princess like beautiful appearance under a wash of silver light. This breath-taking first appearance of the white swan princess is that magical moment when you fall in love with this ballet as a first-time audience. This image stays within – nothing ever can beat that first love. In this production English National Ballet school has given its first timers a white swan Princess to cherish.

With progressing acts the performers serve up some beautiful Pas de deux, solos and perfect pirouettes. Antonio Castilla’s languid and elegant choreography  builds on the originals of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The dancers show promise, grace and dedication in their performance- The future English National Ballet company dancers and principals in the making. It’s a great platform for the young students to start their  professional journeys. Their performance is testament to their beautiful nurturing engendering a deep love and admiration for the art they are learning.

The beautiful pastel shades of the costumes go on to make this a dreamlike journey for the audience …. You are transferred to the  grand imagination of the master, yet inspired by the new.

Everything about the band of white swans is beautiful. Their costumes, postures and choreography with the underlying melancholy that moves you even more when cruel Rothbart sets in with his sweeping owl-like wings. The cruelty and villainy deepen when he sets up Prince Siegfried with Odile disguised as Odette behind a mask. Just when Odette is to lose her loving Prince Siegfried, her chance to break the spell and be free, Odile’s love for her friend  averts her cruel  fate. True love and friendship win and the house cracks with roaring applause.

….You snap out and get back to reality.

This is a Swan Lake for impressionable young minds and it sure leaves an enduring impression. Nothing like the power of live ballet and Tchaikovsky’s immortal music to trigger the curiosity and possible lifelong love for classics.

The   dreams and aspirations of a young and talented bunch of upcoming  artists  can be felt through this hour long  performance of The English National Ballet School. They sure inspired the next generations of fine ballerinas.

Reviewed by Protima Chatterjee

Listings Information

The Peacock, London 29 March – 07 April 2018 www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet 

Churchill Theatre, Bromley  14 & 15 April 2018 www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

New Theatre, Oxford 21 & 22 April 2018   www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

Manchester Opera House 28 & 29 April 2018 www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

The Grand Theatre, Blackpool 05 & 06 May 2018 www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

New Victoria Theatre, Woking 12 & 13 May 2018 www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

Princess Theatre, Torquay 19 & 20 May 2018 www.ballet.org.uk/myfirstballet

 

An electrifying performance-Germán Cornejo’s Tango After Dark-World Premiere,The Peacock, 28 February-17 March

Tango is as much an exploration as it’s a celebration of sensuality. Its full of sexual tension but also a balancing between our male and female sides. Its music and dance evoke elemental passion and high emotion while at a metaphysical level its as if souls are searching for a higher connection.
Tango after dark lives up to this reputation and to the high standards of previous German Cornejo productions of  “Flames of Desire” in 2015 and Tanguera in 2017.  Like before he serves up an intoxicating mix of eroticism and athleticism bathed in the blue and golden light of a Buenos Aires night.
With its ensemble cast of 10 superb dancers and 7 stage musicians does not disappoint. Compared to “Flames of desire” production which we saw in 2015, “Tango After Dark” is designed to be more spectacular.  It has the same heady mix of raw passion and unabashed display of physicality.
The dancing is fast paced with impossible flips and lunges. The angle of the leg flicks seems to defy the laws of physics. The male dancers   look introspective almost reluctant while the female dancers seem to be full of thwarted longing or hidden desires. With impeccable footwork they follow each other each posing a counterpoise to the other.
The show starts with a fast-paced tempo which is occasionally broken by vocalists Jesus Hidalgo and Antonella Cirillo.  The flickering tungsten lamps descending on the top of the stage, a live band playing Piazzola backstage and lightning athletic dancing bodies merging into each other is expected to give the audience a Buenos Aires feeling- a city which never sleeps at night. The dancing is acrobatic but some of the slower pieces with couples dancing” better capture the grace and melancholy of Tango . This particularly true of  “Verano Porteno” and the signature “Oblivion. In some of the others athleticism seems to have got the better of the inner poetry.
The male dancers are mostly formally dressed in jackets and trousers even though the jackets may be brocaded in some instances. The women wear long slit gowns and dresses  sensuously hugging their svelte bodies.
The lighting varies between a neon blue to tungsten yellow but successfully creates the night life ambience of  Buenos Aires.
 The music is of course Piazzola and  the live band led by Diego Ramos are given several opportunities not only to improvise but also to come to the limelight.  And they live up to the occasion serving up a delightful take on well known Tango numbers. The band also breaks the tedium of watching tango on the trot. They provide welcome breaks between the incredible dance numbers enabling the band to appreciate the dance even better
There’s a wide array of tunes used ranging from fast paced to slow languorous rhythms.
The show is a reminder of the spellbinding power that tango is capable of. It’s a breath taking display of tango at its best.  It’s a high tempo show where the energy never slackens.
Protima Chatterjee

 

Darbar Festival 2017 – opening night, 9 November, Sadler’s Wells – A triple bill of Indian classical music and dance by Akram Khan

Since its inception in 2006 Darbar Festival, curated by Sandeep Virdee has been bringing the best of Indian Classical music to the music lovers in London. This year saw an even bigger transformation with the addition of dance and multiple venues including Barbican Centre, Royal Albert Hall, Southbank Centre and for the first time at Sadler’s Wells.
The opening night sees a triple bill with the opening performance by Akram Khan who was followed by the music section of “Raga and Tala”
The dance section of the festival has been curated by Akram Khan who also performed in the opening night. He started off the festival with one of his customary sublime performances in a 20-minute Solo Piece  ‘X’. This is a part of his research into ‘Xenos’, which is expected to be his final solo performance next year.
The might of Akram’s performance have always been overpowering. It’s not just the clarity of his hand gestures, the speed of his spins and the bold slapping of his feet on the floor with his thundering ‘ghungroos’ that make him brand Akram Khan. He personifies a riot of energies and he is a charmer on stage leaving his audiences speechless. There’s something about of his stage presence that is inexplicable but fills the auditorium
Khan tells the story of the Titan- Prometheus, who steals fire from Zeus to share with humans.  Akram strikes a spark with a match stick and reaches up  when  a whole quadrangle of light  bulbs suspended overhead lights up. It creates an imposing image of the sacred fire being passed on.
‘X’ is followed by a traditional ‘sawal jawab’ -a musical battle where Akram and his group of five musicians explore the beauty and strength of collaboration between music and dance. The audience are left holding their breath, involved and immersed in the spirited duel.
Akram khan is chatty with the audience. Between his two sections of performance he jokes about lighting the bulbs-how the choreography would become meaningless if the match stick in the beginning didn’t light. The audience cracks with laughter. But they know that Khan has a million watts of creative energy that would always set the stage alight .
Akram Khan’s performance is followed by Raga and Tala, a journey through ebbs and flows of Carnatic classical rhythms with instrumental music (South Asian percussion instruements). The trio of Patri Satish Kumar on mridangam, Triplicane Sekar on tavil and Amrit Khanjira on khanjira takes the stage after Khan.
 The overhead light design installation is now held in a slanted backdrop to the three musicians seated on a raised dais on the middle of the stage. An impressive cosmic blanket behind them, the galaxy on its celestial journey fuelled by the music that follows. The distinct sounds of the three instruments with their solo riffs conjure three different sounds of nature. The mridangam rattles like a dancing hailstorm, the tavil sounds like boulders rolling down a mountain side and the khanjir is the calmer beat to which the universe could settle down. The piece concludes with an awe-inspiring crescendo of all three instruments playing together
The concluding act was a heart-melting flute recital by Pravin Godkhindi with tabla accompaniment by Supreet Deshpande. The ending with a ‘pahaari’ tune – the melody from the shepherd’s flute on the hills that plays while his herd grazes, was a journey into the lap of nature with rolling green hills and cascading waterfalls.
The Darbar festival opened with a sumptuous selection of Indian classical music and dance. The selection  drew from both the southern Carnatic and the northern Hindustani traditions. The evening of dance and music did what an Indian classical darbar should do- give you that ephemeral feeling of inescapable beauty . You close your eyes and go to the depths of nature or feel the cosmos moving around you-A beautifully curated evening and an enriching experience of Indian classical music and dance.
Protima Chatterjee