Asian Music and Dance


Sadhana Dance opened their second production Elixir following its premiere in Eastleigh, at The Place Theatre, London, to a full house of mainly dance cognoscenti. The Company, formed by Subathra Subramanyam following the disbanding of Angika (a partnership with Mayuri Boonham, which had pioneered some of the best in British South Asian dance), established with Elixir that audiences are now enriched by the two independent companies that have emerged. Elixir draws upon the choreographer’s background in science and education and the journeys she has made as the Education Director of Cape Farewell, a project that enables scientists and artists to explore issues of climate change.

Elixir addresses the preciousness of water to life, a theme which pervades the entire production.  The jewel-like quality of Josh Baum’s installation sets the tone of the show. Miniature china teapots and vials drip and catch water; water crystalises into dew-drops and streams flow around and into all to a wonderful sound score (Kathy Hinde and Matthew Olden), preparing the audience for what follows.

Downstage, four jars each on a stand, are lit in silver – enigmatic receptacles of a magic potion or like a life-giving drip to the patient. The show opens with the chanting of Sanskrit slokas by singer-dancer Divya Kasturi, as three figures clad in white Grecian tunics enter with bowls of water which they set down before beginning a ritual of washing and invoking the spirits. Each muse moves to her own rhythm, facing her own direction and yet there is harmony between this apparent individualism.  Necks and torsos, wrists and fingers are articulated with a sensuousness and hypnotic beauty. 

The first scene dissolves into a joyful play amongst the raindrops as the floor becomes a beautiful black and white pattern of concentric circles. The projections, by visual artist Kathy Hinde, are perfectly judged and recall the foyer installation of drips and droplets on delicate surfaces. The technology does not dwarf the dancers as they execute sequences of jumps and turns stitched together with bharatanatyam sequences. 

The first sign that all is not well in the Garden of Eden occurs as the droplet circles are taken out one by one, ushering in the sand tones of the desert on the hitherto white floor. The light footed aerial movements give over to floor locomotion, as limbs and heads are painfully distorted.

Feast and famine alternate with frightening intensity as drought gives over to floods, and torrents of water see the humans helpless as a cork in a swell; bodies tumble and flail in the turbulent waters that sweep all in their path. There are scenes of death and destruction as the limp body is borne on the shoulders and taken for burial. In times of scarcity, resources are contested and aggression leads to physical combat. In the final scene, the three bodies that are struggling to survive are gradually defeated, and one by one the lights go out.

So much drama is packed into the sixty minutes that the audience is kept at the edge of their seats,yet there is a wonderful economy and understatement in Elixir. Although a polemical piece about the need to conserve water, Elixir has a poetic quality and its structure, the elegance of a haiku. The integration of movement with the projections, set and design has a harmony and felicity rarely achieved in multiple collaborations.

Special mention must be made of the three dancers, Archana Ballal, Elena Jacinta and Veena Basavarajaiah, who share a base of bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. They have demonstrated what can be achieved by the skilful and imaginative manipulation of South Asian dance vocabulary when freed from the traditional repertoire. The language of gesture is taken to a new height: the simple mime of a jet of water from the tap, which becomes a trickle and then a drop before ceasing entirely. The enriching of vocabulary by inclusion of contact, lifts and floor-work gives the dancers an armoury of movement material to draw from. One can truly say that British South Asian dance has gone beyond ‘fusion’ and exists as a ‘genre’ in its own right.

Subi Subramanyam, with her dancers and collaborators, has made a piece of great beauty and passion – one which fulfils the company’s mission of creating ‘thoughtful work which entertains’. A post-show Cafe-Scientifique led by presenter Quentin Cooper gave more scope for reflection and debate. 

It is fitting that on the day following the performance, the media announces that at least one of the Millennium goals has been fulfilled -that of providing 90% of the world with safe water.



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