Asian Music and Dance


Since her last creation, Memory, appeared at The Place’s Resolution! 2011, Divya Kasturi has become one of the Arts Council England, East’s Escalator Dance Artists, completing her first tour of the Eastern region at the Hat Factory’s intimate studio theatre. The audience filed in past a busy set hung with three pom-pom-trimmed lampshades and five costumes behind perspex screens. Amidst this intriguing set of the first act duet, NowHere, dancer-choreographer Divya Kasturi stood mannequin-like behind one of the costumes.

The sound of disjointed bols gave way to Kasturi’s recorded voice as she began to move more freely around the space. The piece charted her journey training in two distinct styles: kathak and bharatanatyam; and negotiating life in two distinct cultures: India and the UK. Kasturi’s hallmark sincerity prevented this danced autobiography from seeming self-indulgent. The voice-over added intimacy to the production with some charming insights, such as the way Kasturi still dreams in Tamil although she mainly speaks English. At times, however, the recorded voice felt too dominant and prescriptive, drawing attention away from the choreography and not calling the audience’s imaginations into play.

A highlight of this duet was the successful collaboration between Kasturi and fellow kathak dancer Urja Thakore, who initially appeared in the role of Guruma striking her woodblock as Kasturi recalled early memories, later returning to the stage as the embodiment of a dual identity. Both dancers adeptly interlaced kathak, bharatanatyam and contemporary movements as they shifted between states of struggle and serenity.

Concluding the first act by donning coat and boots as if waking from a reverie to the reality of a British February climate, Kasturi cleverly framed her second act with this same simple action: re-entering a cleared space to the sound of babbled mantras and a backdrop projection showing the glowing architectural lines of a temple façade. 

The projected film used visually striking slow-motion footage of the dancer in classical costume punctuated by images of city life in Chennai and the UK. This created an effective contrast with Kasturi’s plain black shift dress. 

As the title NowHere suggested, the dancer seemed at one with her identity after the conflicts of the first act. Kasturi authentically embodied the ‘in-between’: sometimes distinctly bharatanatyam or kathak, but more often something less clear-cut. The constant shift between styles created an idiom from the act of transition itself; for example, moving from a bharatanatyam arm position to a kathak arm position to create a release of tension as the elbow drops below shoulder level. The combination of clear rhythmic work marked by feet, hands and spoken counts, stylised hand gestures interspersed with expressive grabbing actions, fluid travelling actions, and floor-work employing the geometric folding and unfolding of limbs, created a rich movement vocabulary. 

In contrast to the simplicity of Memory, NowHere is an ambitious production in which Kasturi has collaborated on a number of levels. Both acts were littered with beautiful visual and aural illustrations of the counterpoint created by two dance styles and two cultures. Although the work had engaging variety, the whole was not quite greater than the sum of its parts. Somehow the reiteration of the same idea by different means lessened the overall impact of what was an undeniably sincere performance with moments of striking beauty.



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