Asian Music and Dance


Kamala Devam is a dancer of rare ability. It’s not often one sees a mover effortlessly tackle a bharatanatyam teermaanam in the fourth speed, and barely a breath later, launch into a series of spins, arabesques and slow-motion body waves. As one of Shobana Jeyasingh’s principal dancers for over five years, Devam is no novice to placing bharatanatyam in dialogue with Cunningham, Dunham, ballet and release. To watch Devam dance is to witness a complex, yet elegant, articulation of movement languages derived from all over the world. 

Devam displayed this technical prowess in her original solo work, FretLess, performed at Rich Mix as part of an evening of dance titled The Feminine Body. A tribute to the dancer and choreographer, Rashpal Singh Bansal, who tragically committed suicide by drowning, FretLess navigates the in-between space of life and death, the resistance of letting go of loved ones, and the desire to save oneself by saving another. Using a life-preserver as a prop throughout the piece, Devam begins FretLess by throwing the white inner tube across the stage while singing lyrics from Colin Hay’s I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You

Interspersed through the work are swift twirls across the stage, suggestive of the motion of a whirlpool, often led by an arm reaching through an imaginary surface. Punctuating these motions are bharatanatyam poses reconfigured to convey narratives of flight, ascension and expansion. The use of bharatanatyam and various contemporary movements aptly highlights the negotiation of identities, cultures and mystical spaces.

Throughout FretLess, Devam repeatedly returns to the life-saver, like a majorette dashes to catch her baton again and again. However, unlike the lightness a batonist uses to twirl her tool, Devam’s handling of the preserver is awkward and encumbered by the tube’s size and weight. At one point, Devam flings the prop across the stage and runs quickly towards it, catching the ring with her body so it lands like a yoke around her neck and shoulders. Each time (and there are several) she throws the inner tube across the stage, it lands with a resounding thump, abruptly detracting from the plaintive tone of the piece. For those who know how Rashpal passed away, it is discomfiting to see a life-saver used so literally to eulogise him. A more nuanced approach would have certainly benefited the work by exploring props – if needed at all – that are only slightly redolent of a ‘rescue’. 

Solo work made on oneself is never an easy endeavour. But if Devam is to make solo work in the future that exploits her talents as a mover, a necessary revaluation of her narrative and choreographic choices will be required, and perhaps a director to shape her vision. 



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