Urja Desai, the director and choreographer of Pagrav Dance Company, presented a solo kathak production of HATS, as part of a triple bill at Resolution! – a showcase for new works by upcoming choreographers. The piece explored the various roles women play (hats they wear) and the demands society places on them.
Avoiding the well-trodden path of traditional story-telling, Urja chose to convey emotions through expressive abstract movements and facial expression. The hanging wooden frame, symbolising the mirror of life, becomes the focal point, which reflects her moods – past and present. From the headiness of freedom to love and then the anguish of ageing in a society obsessed with youth culture, the journey struck a chord. Conflict of various roles a modern woman is expected to play and an effort to bring some sort of balance in her life ends this short but emotional piece without it ever becoming sentimental.
Live percussion by Hiren Chate and flute by Carla Reese enhanced to some extent the music track composed by Alap Desai, which expressed the moods and emotions but at times overshadowed the dancing. Unfortunately the lighting also often missed the mark and left the dancer in the dark, or under such dim lighting that facial expressions were lost.
A disciple of the Padmashree Kumudini Lakhia, internationally renowned for her pioneering work in choreography while giving her students a good grounding in the kathak technique, Desai maintains the purity of the kathak form while imbuing it with a freshness and individuality. Her joy of movement is evident and the new movements created to deal with the theme merge seamlessly with the kathak vocabulary. The most prominent one was the image of a pair of scales demanding balance, with which the dance ends to the chanting of Om.
My reservation is that the piece is not developed enough to immerse the audience into the dancer’s world. The emotions are approached in a linear rather than three-dimensional manner. Although I understand the restrictions placed on the length of the piece by the terms of Resolution!, I would like to see HATS developed further where the emotions are explored at a deeper level which would convey their complexity.