What might two lawyers and an accountant have in common besides an interest in white-collar professions? The possibly highly surprising answer is a shared passion for classical Indian dance. What’s more, as was made evident by this showcase organised by the dance agency Akademi, the movement idiom of choice for Kaleel Anwar, Sanjay Shetty and Pranav Yajnik is kathak.
The one-off evening at Rich Mix was a kind of launch pad for the three men (all of whom have been training as dancers for approximately a decade) as, to quote the programme, ‘they rise and establish themselves as part of the cultural landscape of the UK.’ The potential shift from what could be deemed amateur dancer to aspiring professional is an interesting strategy. Obviously it’s still early days, but the looming question is does this trio – whether individually or as a package – have what it takes? I’m not a soothsayer. All I can say with any surety is that watching them test the waters of professional dance constituted a good night out.
Overseen artistically by their mentor, the Pakistani dancer-choreographer Fasih ur-Rehman, the programme’s longer first half was topped and tailed by dances in which all three guys strutted their stuff. Seeing them together it was their contrasting styles – the differing personalities and expressions of temperament as much as any variations in technical ability – that hooked me from the get-go. In Salaam, they were introduced to us as white-clad equals. Given its title this opening dance was offered as a tribute to the space and an implicit welcome to the audience. But bubbling away just beneath the serene surface I could discern a little electric stream of nerves, expectations and, I suspect, a sense of friendly competition. The men were like horses fresh out of the gate, only instead of engaging in a race they were on show – sleekly combed, brushed and ready to make an impression.
It was in the subsequent solos, however, that we could perceive more closely who each one is on stage – how he presents himself and behaves alone when under pressure or, if things are going well, to what degree he can occupy and convey a state of pleasure. The slightly swarthy Anwar is the sturdiest of the men. With its emphasis on footwork and turns, his performance in Hus’n-e-Hansadhwani (translation: the beauty of the sound of swans) contained a tincture of sensual intensity. Although his mime was a tad perfunctory, Yajnik rose fairly well to the challenge of Naachat Ganesh (choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas). Kohl-eyed, with a wolfish smile and a trendy haircut, as well as being the most slightly-built of the men, he seems especially adept at kathak’s speedy, stamping spins. The thumri, or devotional poem, Kaahe Rokat Dagar afforded Shetty an opportunity for delicate, low-key emotion. Enveloping his long, thin frame in the soft contours of a velvety blue coat, he was clearly invested in the soundtrack’s tender tones as a means of blurring the fine line between the masculine and the feminine.
In Navodit, the piece (choreographed by Geetanjali Lal) that closed the first half, the men functioned as a perhaps necessarily imperfect unit. This was also the case after the interval in Teen Taal, a pure dance composition featuring the bonus of live music. Dancing side by side was somehow more exposing than when they were doing solos and, in truth, parts of Teen Taal in particular came across as somewhat under-rehearsed. But this is not at all a fully-fledged complaint. My hunch is that none of these fellows has been able to pursue their studies full-time. So yes, there were shortcomings in the dancing of each – a certain awkwardness here, maybe a lack of polish there. But that’s almost beside the point. What Navodit (which means ‘newly-risen’) was about was honouring their dedicated pursuit of craft. What wasn’t completely finished was still quite alive. I was glad to have witnessed their debut, marked with what I’d like to think of as its reminder of the mystique of male beauty, and am interested in seeing how each might develop a career in dance.