Asian Music and Dance


“Geometry has two great treasures: one is the Theorem of Pythagoras; the other, the division of a line into extreme and mean ratio. The first we may compare to a measure of gold; the second we may name a precious jewel.”

Johannes Kepler

Sigma is a new forty-five-minute work developed by Gandini Juggling (developed in partnership with Seeta Patel) that explores choreographic architectures, visual patterning and the rhythmic crossover between bharatanatyam and juggling. Featuring Gandini’s Kati Ylä-Hokkala and Kim Huynh alongside bharatanatyam dancers Seeta Patel and Indu Patel, Sigma presents four supremely-skilled female performers who deliver an exceptionally sharp feast for the eyes. 

Divided into twelve independent vignettes, Sigma opens with a deadpan introductory line-up whereby each performer introduces themselves and a roll-call of wishes for what the show might contain: “a big Bollywood number”, “feminist statements” and “sexy men to do the dancing.” As a conceptual and visual proposition, the marriage of juggling and bharatanatyam is rich with possibilities; from the vertical trajectories and arcs of the balls changing speed in the air sharing the stage with the horizontal air cuts of Seeta and Indu. If you collected the data patterns from the movement of both bodies and balls it would provide something akin to the complex sculptures of Nathalie Miebach.

“Speed is simply the rite that initiates us into emptiness: a nostalgic desire for forms to revert to immobility, concealed beneath the very intensification of their mobility.”
– Jean Baudrillard

With a pair of mirrored panels and digital projections adding depth and some perceptual trickeryto a number of the scenes, we see asamyukta hastas (single-hand gestures) and samyukta hastas (two-hand gestures) mixed with kaleidoscopic hand shadows that mutate into Rorschach inkblots. Comparing the range of movement of the performers it’s fascinating to see the limited radius and restricted quality of the jugglers; with biceps and triceps contracted and elbows glued to the torso, the radius and range of their movement is limited to about 20 centimetres. The rotation of the wrist and dexterity of Teflon fingers ensures a constant smooth procession of balls out of the hand and into the air. 

There are vignettes (including a surprising appearance of Anna Meredith’s rousing, throbbing horn fanfare piece Nautilus) that are more successful than others; an onomatopoeic word-play of poly-syllabic London place names like Wal-tham-stow and East-Bromp-ton that are accented by bharatanatyam footwork cleverly demonstrates the seamless integration of the two forms. Sat in the middle of the work was a laboured and unnecessary slow-motion duet (with over-emotional piano soundtrack) in which the performers held onto the balls and enacted a contemporary choreography in invisible golden syrup which dragged the pace and rhythm of the show out of kilter. 

“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.” Chuck Palahniuk 

It is hard to fault Sigma with the quality, polish and detail on show; however, at forty-five minutes there isn’t enough time for it to engage emotionally or burrow under the skin and it felt like it has been designed for an Edinburgh/festival audience. In order for a show to stand out in this context it needs to be doing something a little different and Sigma achieves that, but the lack of abhinaya and emotional neutrality of Ylä-Hokkala and Huynh prevents it from connecting. It has not yet established an artistic identity and appeal for audiences who wish to encounter a little more rigour and emotional depth and although it remains full of classical Indian fireworks and parabolic velocity, I found its decorative façade hard to love.



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