The title ‘Moving Root’ represents the cultural traditions, of which dance is an integral part, that are carried by people as they move from one country to another. In the case of the debutante dancers Seema Patel and Payal Patel students of Gauri Sharma Tripathi, Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre, the ‘roots’ moved from India to the UK via East Africa.
Over a sixty-minute feast for the eyes, ears and heart, the two dancers stamp, glide, spin, narrate and enact mythological stories as they demonstrate their fluency in kathak technique. The two halves of the performance are distinguished by the more open and free flowing movements of the first half, with the dancers in more casual attire moving across swathes of space, their bodies often in close proximity liberally using contact in movement. The soundtracks of their growing-up experiences (Alaknanda Samarnath) are vivid and full of charm. Tripathi’s long-term music collaborator Niraj Chag has an instinctive feel for dance accompaniment. The mis-en-scene is clever with the audience placed at two ends of the ballroom and the middle area as the stage, which has a gauze screen in two sections, allowing dancers to be seen both behind and in front and to change sides.
In the second half of the performance the dancers wear ghungroos, and move on to the more technical aspects of kathak: the fast-paced-tukras and tohras, the soft gat-bhavs and the rendering of abhinaya in bhajan/thumri. The simple yet gorgeous dress, jewellery and make-up, the open hair, have an informality made more charming by the freshness and youth of the pair. The presentation, which was repeated three times over the day, gave ample scope to crowds of over 1,000 people to have a window into an alternative culture, which is rare in public spaces of Britain.
Whilst venues across the nation prepared Christmas fare of carol concerts and pantomime shows, the Southbank Centre lobbed a handful of gulal (red powder) and sparkle to lighten and entertain the London public with a free dance event. For our dancers, Payal Patel and Seema Patel it was the equivalent of a modern Manch Pravesh or ‘taking of the space’ prepared by their dance guru Gauri Sharma Tripathi, a very satisfying synergy of purposes.