Now in its fourth year, Daredevas, Akademi’s showcase for young dance talent, took place at London’s Purcell Room in front of a packed and enthusiastic audience. Featuring six classically-trained South Asian dancers newly embarking on their professional careers, the evening was a delightful mix of the old and new, and of the familiar classical styles, as well as those seen less frequently on London stages.
A light-hearted Ganesha composition danced by Devika Rao in the folk Yakshagna tradition opened the evening. This dance-drama genre from Karnataka, unfamiliar to most of the audience, was vigorously and energetically presented, combining jumps and travelling steps and thoroughly engaging the audience. Rao’s colourful costume and large red and green headdress combined with her expertise left a strong visual impression. Her strength of attack and command of the stage was also present in a later bharatanatayam solo, Eternal – Dance of Bliss. Two items of odissi style, presented by dancer Khavita Kaur brought a very graceful and sinuous quality to the programme. Her sculptural sthankas and tribhanga positions, interspersed with exquisite abhinaya were captivating, and Kaur, moved languidly in the lyrical sections of her Arabhi Pallavi.
Kathak dancer Mukti Shri followed with an impressively strong invocation to Durga and a presentation of fast, well-executed tatkar and impressive pirouettes in traditional kathak style. Shri’s confidence and enjoyment of her pieces and the clarity of her rhythm delighted the audience, who applauded with whoops of pleasure. Also included in the programme were two items of Kuchipudi, one of which was the rarely-seen (in the UK) plate dance, the Tarangam, Arunima Kumar’s assured and dynamic performance of both pieces brought out the rhythms and the folk elements of this particular style.
The one male dancer of the evening, Sooraj Subramaniam, presented a beautiful bharatanatyam Siva item, impressing the audience with his elegant lines, aesthetic poses and energetic jumps. It is reassuring to see young men of this standard taking their place in professional dance life. Less successful was the contemporary dance by another young bharatanatyam dancer, Shreya Kumar, who performed Storms. Exotic Past, developed during her recent contemporary training at The Place. Street, voice-over, contemporary and classical segued together, at times seamlessly but at other points rather jaggedly, creating an uneven and slightly unsatisfying mix. Yet what stood out was Shreya’s obvious risk-taking in presenting a piece that she had conceptualised and created, rather than simply dancing an item from existing classical repertoire.
In its celebratory 30th year, Akademi’s continuing commitment to young dancers is vindicated in this unusual programme of mainly classical pieces. Perhaps this is evidence of Akademi’s real ‘coming of age’ – of a confidence to present solo classical and folk dances to today’s multi-cultural and sophisticated audiences.