The setting of a theatre is not the most conducive to a meditative state; its dimensions are more utilitarian than spiritual and one’s focus on the stage is shared (in the case of the Lilian Baylis Studio) with about 180 other people. In Inter-rupted for Dance Umbrella last year, choreographer Aditi Mangaldas and her designers successfully challenged these limitations with a dynamic use of colour and space. In Echoes, her first kathak solo for Aakash Odedra, Mangaldas uses the auditory quality of strings of traditional ghungroo bells to usher in a sense of calm. In the programme note she quotes J. Krishnamurti: ‘If you listen to the sound of those bells with complete silence you would be riding on it, or rather, the sound would carry you across the valley and over the hill…’ The theatre setting militates against this, but Krishnamurti’s aerial metaphor finds a visual counterpart in the strings of bells suspended above the stage and they also spread like tentacles along the floor like an unrolled skein of wool. The bells become the playing field for Odedra, whose dancing imbues them with life. We first see him wafting a tassel of bells around his torso, although Fabiana Piccioli’s engulfing cone of light at this moment is too sharp, too designed, for Odedra’s languor. While the sound and imagery of the bells recur throughout Echoes, it is Odedra’s presence and his ability to sinuously, noiselessly insinuate his shape into the space around and above him that invites us to contemplate. The silent dynamics of his movement have no edges, like sound itself; they flow and swirl and rise (his joyful elevation is rare in kathak) in a series of choreographic variations. Mangaldas has fully understood Odedra’s gifts and through them achieves a sense of awe through a oneness of the dancer and the danced.
The contrast with Odedra’s own choreography, I Imagine, reveals an artist who is as expressive in a spiritual role as he is as a common man (or woman). On a stage marked out in white tape like an architectural plan and piled with suitcases of all shapes and sizes, he embodies the spirits of his antecedents, inhabiting the symbols of travel (quite literally at first) while questioning the ideas of migration and home. He scrabbles around the suitcases, retrieving old portraits (in the form of masks created by David Poznanter) and honouring their memory by imagining their peripatetic tribulations, their aspirations and dreams. He is so present in their lives that they live through him, voices and all. It takes a while to square this performance with the previous one, because Odedra has moved far from his kathak roots into experimental theatre; he is an actor in his own drama and indulges his ability to evoke his past and present through theatrical means. Choreography enters slowly, but when he performs what appears to be a ritual dance at a suitcase altar, his flowing hands and arms describe everything that words cannot. As in Echoes, his dancing comes from an intimate space inside the body, a place of emotions from which he extrudes meaning through his eloquent limbs. Odedra choreographed I Imagine to the voice of spoken-word artist Sabrina Mahfouz. She, too, talks eloquently and powerfully about home and migration, her words complementing Odedra’s staged conception. Except that Odedra, in some alchemy of performance, has managed to say it all himself.