Asian Music and Dance

First Light & Choreogata

For an open-application choreographic competition, Akademi’s Choreogata Artist Development Programme seems to have been dealt a demon hand this year. All three works on this evening’s roster have a theme of a dark underside of life in some form or another that is nevertheless countered by a theme of light in both spiritual and physical form. Divya Kasturi’s demon steals her virtual ID and hacks into her secret identity; Urja Desai Thakore’s demon is the toxicity of daily life and Seeta Patel takes light to a spiritual level, associating it with enlightenment and with its value in overcoming the demons of ignorance and fear. 

Kasturi’s 20-minute work-in-progress, Forgot Your Password? is a multi-media parable on real and virtual identity. It begins with her sitting at a desk in front of her computer screen and finding she can’t log on; her email account has been hacked. This leads to a choreographic reflection on the nature of online identity and on the insidious phenomenon of losing it. Gemma Bass-Williams, Ella Mesma and Jade Yung represent the myriad identities we create whenever we choose a new password, and Matthew Olden’s video screens depict a proliferation of eyes, instruments of cyber-espionage as well as expressive elements of Indian classical dance. In a similar cross-fertilisation of cultural forms, Olden’s score is derived from computer sounds to which Kasturi adds her own Carnatic rhythms. 

The opening of Urja Desai Thakore’s work, Detox, is visually stunning: an amorphous golden tapestry of reflective material – like a moving plague – that undulates bonelessly (thanks to the sinuous Anna Simpson underneath) in the half light to Rahul Bhatt’s breathless string score. A second organism slithers on a little more noisily and is ‘devoured’ by the first in a fitful but ineluctable contest. Only then does a hand appear from within the voluminous fabric and four dancers wriggle out. Archana Ballal, Annie Hearn, Lauren Wilson and Parbati Chaudhry are four spirits fusing classical kathak forms with a contemporary vocabulary to express their attraction to toxic obsession, its pathological hold on them and their struggle to overcome it. In this extract there is no resolution, though a phrase of Lao Tzu reveals Thakore’s goal in the fully-developed work: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Light plays a major role in the piece, not only symbolically but physically; it is light that shapes the choreography. Thakore had the opportunity to choose lighting designer Lucy Carter as a mentor for the project who in turn worked with Chloe Kenward to create a compelling work both visually and viscerally. 

Seeta Patel’s First Light had been performed in 2012 under Hungerford Bridge as part of an independent corporate commission, so for Choreogata she has taken the opportunity to restage the work for the theatre, reworking the elements of dance, music and light to respond to the quite different (but more controllable) space. Again, the image at the beginning is haunting as all we see is the upside-down face of Kamala Devam in suspended animation detached from body or support by the dark (thanks to lighting by Chloe Kenward). The drama of the work derives from pure dance and while Patel fuses classical Indian forms and contemporary dance like Kasturi and Thakore, her instruments are more clearly attuned to the classical: both she and Kamala Devam are trained in it and Teerachai Thobumrung has an elegance and martial quality that adapts seamlessly to the dance vocabulary. To John Metcalfe’s score, Patel creates sophisticated formal patterns and a developed gestural element that flow through the work, setting up the archetypal tension of oppositions and the resolution of divine female energy, from formlessness to sophistication. It is the light that wins.



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