Anoushka Shankar presented no ordinary sitar recital. No alap, jod-jalla or gat in teental. The evening, divided in two parts, tackled innovation head-on.
Part 1 called Svatantrya was, according to the notes, inspired by Anoushka’s personal struggles and the work became her catharsis. The stage presented Anoushka sitting at the back, several feet up on top of a rather grand pedestal draped in a blood-red satin textile.
Before the music there was prose: “I am body. I am mind. I am waking consciousness. Discovery, learning, feeling…” And as the music begins, Mythili Prakash emerges from the darkness with a dance based on bharatanatyam. She represents an extroverted human role, opening with the yogic surya namaskar and gradually building with bharatanatyam adavus.
A few minutes later, the percussion players sitting at the back of the stage also emerge from the blackness. The music and dance picks up, patterns which are attractive but never assume more meaning than ‘dancing steps’.
Darkness again. More prose and then from another blood-red piece of textile hanging down from the ceiling, Asa Kubiak emerges to present the ‘soul’. With Anoushka playing atop her pedestal, Asa plays with blood red drapery, sometimes caressing it, often climbing it, wrapping her body around it in slow graceful movements, many metres above the stage floor. Her movements seem to have an affinity with the riffs and trills of the sitar.
The culmination is the divine (Asa) coming down from high to meet the human form (Mythili) on the stage to find some peace. And once I got over the contortions that Asa was putting herself through as she wrapped her body around the hanging textile, it was something that grew on me. Perhaps, worryingly for the music artists, it was the visual display of the dancers that remains with me as I write these words.
After the interval, the stage was set for more traditional music when Anoushka sat alongside Tanmoy Bose on tabla, Pirashanna Thevarajah on mridangam, Ravichandra Kular on flute and Nick Able on tanpura. We were presented with several relatively short pieces that criss-crossed classical genres from across the sub-continent, the highlight of which was the ever-graceful raag Kirwani. And although exhilarating, exciting and great fun, the music didn’t leave a lasting impression.