Daredevas at Arts Depot in North London was presented by Akademi, the leading producers of South Asian dance in the UK. It is a platform for UK-based Indian classical dancers to present their interpretation of their dance forms.
The evening’s presentation brought seven pieces, all very different in idea, colour, texture, mood and style. Showmi Das’s kathak was spinning and whirling with resonating bells from her dazzling footwork, while Khavita Kaur’s odissi was elegant posture and a distinctive rhythm with beautiful foot movements. The first piece of the evening, Adda, was performed by Das. Choreographed by Jayashree Acharya and performed to a sarangi instrumental, Adda brought the ancient Muslim ritual of Salaami or ‘Salutation’ to the audience. Das made us feel we were seated in the royal presence where she was the beautiful courtesan in her black, gold-bordered silk ghagra (long skirt), a gold blouse and a golden fabric that drapes down from her head around her body. She welcomed us in. The melodious sounds of the sarangi provided a perfect throwback to an earlier era.
Adda was followed by Sthai, Kaur’s first piece of the evening. The word sthai means ‘permanent’. In this piece Kaur’s graceful movements echoed the timeless temple carvings of India. She has an innovative take on the traditional odissi costume with her little personal touches like the drapes and her eye-catching waistband. Kaur used her own poems in the backdrop and as a voice-over, which blended well with the evening’s theme. It added a distinctive touch to an otherwise pure classical dance. Though her mudras (hand gestures) could do with some more work, the overall impact of her stage presence and the choreography was very elegant.
Nayika (‘heroine’) evoked the splendour of abhinaya (‘expression’) – one of the key building blocks of kathak. Choreographed by Jayashree Acharya and Showmi Das, Nayika revolved around eight facets of the Nayika’s relationship to her lover. She went through a range of emotions of love from tremulous expectation to rage to secret rendezvous to distressed separation. This piece was the highlight of Das’s new work of the evening. It brought out not just the fabulous dancer that she is, but also portrayed the precision and clarity of her expression, which is intrinsic to any classical Indian dance form.
The following two pieces were presented by Kaur. Vasanta Pallavi, choreographed by Guru Durga Charan Ranvir and set to music by Sri Sukant Kumar Panda, depicts the blossoming spring and its relation to human desires. Spring brings joy and happiness, it is the beginning of a new hope, new relationships and stirs human emotions. Spring is beauty and colour: both these were symbolised by a glowing pink rose used as a prop by Kaur. She used the rose to caress her face and lightly brush against her beautifully held postures in languid movements. Spirit Moon was an exploration of time, space and emotion in relation to rhythm. The same pink rose was now broken, and torn petals lay scattered. Kaur started the piece by gathering these in a hollow sound of time, as if to put together the pieces of her broken heart, turning into hope and perhaps holding out for a deeper truth. The movements blended in a misty hue of pink silhouette as Kaur melted out of the stage at the end of the piece.
Lights brightened and a scene of celebration set in, a complete contrast to the mellow feeling of the previous piece. Das brought in Utsaav or ‘Celebration’, which showed a strikingly different aspect of her presentation. Nayika had been all about expression, now the focus was on technique: spins, fast paced movements and intricate footwork set on a cycle of sixteen beats performed to a bol (sung syllable). Utsaav represented the essence of kathak and showed Das’s finesse in the art.
Kaur concluded the evening with Moksha (‘salvation)’, which in odissi is performed at the end of a repertoire. Agile movements and a contemporary approach differentiated this piece from the rest of her evening’s performance. The energetic movements reached a crescendo in this piece and served as a perfect finale to the evening. Kaur has established herself as a very talented artist with a bright future. Her use of poetry, mostly her own, adds another layer to her performance.
Daredevas brought some commendable new work by these two rising talents. Their different approaches to the classical tradition is refreshing. Our classical heritage is to be respected but at the same time renewed with fresh perspectives. This is where Das and Kaur have been courageous and shown how classical work can still carry an individual stamp.