After establishing themselves in the UK and following a successful UK tour in 2009, Pagrav Dance Company brings to the plate a double bill of two very different works: the vivid solo Anant – Endless and the deeply emotive duet I, within. The pieces feature the company’s artistic director and choreographer, Urja Desai Thakore, who trained under kathak guru Kumudini Lakhia and whose choreographic record includes commissions for Akademi.
Anant – Endless winds itself gracefully across the stage, carefully punctuated by rhythm and gesture. The piece begins with the solo dancer, Thakore, slowly moving behind a pane of stretched muslin. She appears mysterious, as if shrouded in smoke, a captured timeless dancer from years gone by. All too soon she is in front of the material, performing faster tukras and surprising the audience in her blatant reality. She seems harsh in the bright lights that are shone on the material, leaving the audience all too glad when she disappears beneath a second pane, once again veiled in secrecy. This is repeated across three panes of material, with Thakore cleverly experimenting with handprints and mudras pushed forcefully against the muslin, stretching out towards the audience. Thakore’s unique choreographic concept of fusing the traditional with the modern is intelligently applied throughout the piece, tracking her personal journey from India to the UK. Her depiction of clashing cultures is evident through the sudden, if a little harsh, contrasts between her dynamics and stage placement. A good attempt was made considering the lack of live music, which left the piece slightly lifeless and minus the thrill that a live musician can add, the tinny recorded music unable to live up to the comparative magnitude of the dance.
After a swift set change, and a well-deserved leg-stretch for the audience, the stage was transformed into a murky landscape for the performance of I, within. Cloaked in a sheath of darkness, the dancers begin with a great expanse of space between them, space that seems electric, as if invisibly charged with intensity that only the dance itself can address. A face is lit upstage, belonging to a dancer who is contorted into a position not yet recognised by the audience. She begins to gently touch her face, letting her arms flop helplessly to the floor at intervals as if pulled by an untameable force. The dance carries similar puppet imagery throughout, emerging from an examination of different female roles in modern society. The dancers gradually move closer, as if magnetised. This gravitational pull finally culminates in an ingenious duet, whereby the two seem merged, performing mudras in symmetry and circling each other like bulls in a ring.
Here, Thakore experiments further with an attempt to fuse traditional kathak with more contemporary forms. The bells are gone, as is the tatkar, and the dance is set to a driving contemporary soundtrack by composer Hiren Chate, which propels the piece into intensity. The dance’s powerful emotion is strengthened by the use of clear-cut kathak gestures and poignant facial expressions, yet implanted sections of Thakore’s own contemporary movement seem a little out of place.
Both pieces combine the modern with the traditional, bringing kathak to the forefront of current-day issues, promoting the form’s validity within a modern context and producing dance that is both powerfully evocative, yet frankly relevant.
The audience leaves the auditorium in a flurry of excited chatter, clearly refreshed by Thakore’s unique approach to the difficult task of modernising kathak. Her tumultuous applause was well-deserved following the heartfelt performance she gave; I look forward to her future work.