Even a wet and windy evening could not deter supporters from attending Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre for Pagrav Dance Company’s premier performance that anticipates the arrival of Spring.
Directed by Urja Desai Thakore, the show opened with Thakore sporting a red lengha, reciting lines of poetry that described the harshness and cruelty of a winter-hardened land. Even without understanding each word, which was in Hindi text, the delivery was convincing, delicately supported by cellist Nicole Collarbone.
The sedate atmosphere didn’t last long. Suddenly Akash Odedra burst onto stage like a thunderbolt breaking into the melody and charging the stage with energy. Odedra showed flair with limbs stretched and chakkars executed clockwise and anticlockwise.
Together both dancers took charge, taking elements of the kathak repertoire, tohras and tukras, and covering the stage. Thakore’s well-rounded movements were of contrast to the liquid lines of Odedra. The use of space and placement of the dancers was a reminder that Thakore has trained at Kadamb with Kumudini Lakhia, a master of architecture and line.
Odedra’s solo displayed new movements in his palette including spins on the knees, leaps with pirouettes and subtle changes of weight and gravity that conveyed the dancer’s intent to stretch the boundaries of his form.
The second of the three sections saw Spring (dressed in yellow and performed by Ashwini Kalsekar) engage in a battle with Winter. Kalsekar is technically proficient but lacks the sparkling, darting quality that reflects the spirit of its season. It was only when performing solo that she was able to find her own personality, otherwise paling in the shadow of the other dancers.
The evocation of Spring in the vocal rendition of alap made the audience hunger for more, but it felt as though composer and vocalist Jatanil Banerjee was holding back. His orchestra, comprising of Hiren Chate on tabla, Soumik Datta on sarod, and Nicole Collarbone on cello, provided a competent musical and sound score for Baharan but it still felt as though parts of the soundtrack had been left unexplored. The extended description of the breaking of Spring, where the lehra (the musical refrain which marks the sixteen-beat cycle) dominates, makes the music rather dull in the middle section. Would it have been possible for instance to be brave and throw the lehra to the wind? Or, to use silence or a single instrument?
Urja Thakore has established herself as a dancer who has depth of knowledge of her form. Thakore’s lines have clarity and there is grace and softness in the wrists, arms and upper torso. Her expression has compassion and humanity, which gives her the aura of mother earth as befits her role in the piece. Hiren Chate’s tabla playing is finely nuanced and supportive of the dancer.
The concluding tarana with all three dancers is well choreographed with an entrancing musical composition that brings the performance to a satisfying close. Pagrav has made a pleasing start with Baharan but some careful rework can only raise its temperature further.