Asian Music and Dance

My Stamping Ground

I walked into the Elliot Hall and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a friend from Chennai who recently moved to London. A few minutes of banter and I was transported to a different world, a world of Chennai music and dance. I was still in the other world when the lights dimmed and two groups of performers in trousers and T-shirts entered to part-live part-recorded music. After a few bewildering moments the realisation set in that this was a show by a company that had earned its reputation in the London dance scene by dressing down and by experimenting with music.  

The forty-eight minute production featuring five dancers, four musicians, a singer and a rap artist exploring the gang culture in the city came across as something between a Tamil film with a run-of-the-mill-storyline and a bharatanatyam piece with countless ‘dith dith thei’ and a sprinkling of other recognisable steps. There were flashes of brilliant choreography in the alarippu which acted as an introduction to the two feuding gangs. The incorporation of kalaripayattu steps to portray heated confrontation which ended in the death of one of the gang members to thanam in thodi was to me the highlight of the performance. 

Coming from the Kalanidhi Narayanan school of abhinaya, the emotive aspect of the whole piece was over-dramatised and lacked the crucial satvika element which lends depth and focus to any performance. This is especially true for such a short production, which had so much to convey. The artists faltered in their task of evoking some very difficult and strong emotions like love, hate, anger, death and reconciliation all in under an hour which contributed to the production being not so impressive despite the innovative concept, excellent music and perfect lighting.  

The idea of marrying rap lyrics and carnatic music had a brilliant effect as both art forms are heavily rhythm oriented. Gifted with a good voice Yadhavan lived up to expectations and was supported by an equally competent team of musicians. 

My Stamping Ground was a typical Nina Rajarani production with high-energy steps performed at breakneck speed, quite often compromising on the neat lines. Having seen Quick and Play Ball, it was a relief to see that she had decided against using video projections which in the past only added to an already busy stage. Parts of the solo and duet choreography were strong reminders of her past productions such as Women are from Venus and Chemistry which leaves one wondering if it is just the costume that is changing with every production? Although innovative, it is beginning to look like recycled material and future productions would benefit from new choreography rather than just innovations in music and costume.



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