Asian Music and Dance

From the Heart

Anusha Subramanyam is well-known in dance circles for her work with special needs and community groups and as an excellent bharatanatyam teacher. She has made regular appearances at the Chennai Winter Season but somehow in the UK, the performance stage has eluded her. Therefore to see her present a full-length solo show and that, too, of her own choreography created great excitement.

The show opened with the piece Nasat, based on lines from the Rig Veda, which contemplate the origin of the Universe in paradoxical statements. The dancer in a dim pool of light, her back to the audience and arms raised, rotates imperceptibly conveying the stirrings of life as wisps of air or cosmic dust rise and begin to circulate. The opening sequence is mesmerising with the dancer turning and spinning, rooted in her spine but the axis veering at angles. This leads to the first of the oppositional states of deathlessness and life. Gasping for air, shaking compulsively and letting out a primal scream evoked images of butoh. A new type of abhinaya, more open and less formalised was deployed. 

The short piece has a smattering of jattis, but these unfortunately do not add to the atmosphere; they are performed to a box-like structure, and the conveying of space both literal and metaphoric is lost. The audience is left hankering for the magic of the opening section.

The second item From the Heart is based, the programme notes tell us, on the dancer’s experiences of working with people with special needs. The dancer enters in a diagonal shaft of light, exploring levels and angles with foot stamps to unpatterned dhi-dhi-theis. She arrives at a rectangular lit space downstage right. Her dance is tightly focused and framed by the lit space. Our attention is grabbed by images of bodies and shapes that do not quite conform to convention. Half-stretched limbs at awkward angles, feeling the beauty from within but unable to convey it bodily are etched as if by an animator creating a number of frames between the start of the movement and its completion at the final perfect posture. The structure of bharatanatyam with its angularity and rigid spine, relaxes and breathes. The spaces between the movements are revealed. It is a moment of stunning originality.

The poignancy of the lyrics Sundar Sharir (body beautiful) is felt by those members of the audience lucky enough to understand the language. A longer padam under green light is lost in lack of translation.

There is, however, some kernel of truth at the heart of this performance which is transformative for the receiver. A dancer with great technique and grace, steps out of the structures of her received form to express freely an individual vision. Anusha’s performance is part of the current trend in South Asian dance, which is about using technique but finding one’s own voice. With further crystallisation From the Heart has the potential of becoming a signature piece for this dancer.



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