My Soul is Alight presented a beguiling glimpse into odissi and kathak through movements, themes, colours and emotions.
During an evening carefully curated by Sanjeevini Dutta, two bright British dancers, Parbati Chaudhury and Katie Ryan, blossomed into partners on stage with imaginative and heartfelt interweaving of live music by vocalist Ranjana Ghatak and violinist May Robertson. The evening flowed through an experimental and exploratory first half into dazzling classical repertoire items in the second half, allowing the audience to acquire a feel for the forms before the more traditional roots were unearthed.
Ranjana and Katie began in a spatial relationship where neither really addressed the other. Katie played the distracted deer, searching for the musk that already lay within her – a charming metaphor for the human quest, expressed by Ranjana’s eloquent rendition of Tagore’s verses. The immersive lighting design transformed the stage into a starry galaxy. Katie and Ranjana acknowledged each other for the first time, realising the divine sparks surrounding them.
Next Parbati swirled in, gracefully interpreting May Robertson’s sweeping violin in Bach’s Partita 2. Parbati’s choreographic skill came to the fore as she played with the musical themes through mirroring movements and motifs. It was certainly a challenge to bridge kathak and baroque violin, but the effort succeeded in merging the two forms in expressive synchronisation.
Saheli was the highlight of the evening. Featuring original music by Jesse Bannister, the piece explored a friendship and interaction between two individual identities and their emotive dynamics. Charming rhythmic interplay and choreography characterised this piece with soft, tender moments and exuberant conversation showcasing both styles. Saheli was certainly packed with enough conceptual and musical material to develop into something much larger than an item in a mixed bill.
Following the interval, Parbati presented an effervescent thumri sung in the vivid and affecting voice of Kaushiki Chakraborty. Dramatic phrases depicted the plight of a nayika lost without her lover as Parbati’s eyes glistened with longing. In Leela Nidhi, Katie’s coy and bashful Radha was gracefully detailed, elaborating on the lyrical softness of the odissi form.
Parbati confidently and fluidly presented an uplifting classical ‘pure dance’ piece choreographed by her teacher, Urja Desai Thakore, featuring technical aspects of kathak’s nritta.
Katie’s final piece revealed her strong grounding in the powerful intricacy of odissi’s rhythmic movement compositions, which flowed smoothly into a Devi Stuti sung by Ranjana, bringing the evening to a devotional close.
The sequence of the mixed bill was skilfully calculated. Experimental pieces provided food for thought and classical items added a sense of satisfaction. As a sceptical optimist, I was pleasantly surprised by how the evening unfolded – sceptical because I wasn’t sure how successfully the interplay between the two styles of dance, live music and experimental themes would work. But the optimist in me realised that productions like this are a valuable opportunity, not only for artistic development but for audiences to experience the multiple aspects of these rich dance forms too.
I wish more people had seen it in Leicester but across the UK, the several dates of the tour ensured that a production of this quality reached a wider audience. A dedicated production house for this kind of work would provide space to explore themes, lighting design and collaboration with live musicians, but one acknowledges that significant logistical and financial constraints exist.
My Soul is Alight was successful in representing kathak and odissi with engaging themes. The relationships and interactions on stage created an intimate atmosphere with enough room for the unique skills and strengths of each artist to be realised clearly.