Asian Music and Dance


Mayuri Boonham, formerly the joint artistic director and co-choreographer of Angika, has launched her new company ATMA. It’s an auspicious debut. Featuring four female dancers in addition to the choreographer, Boonham’s contrasting double bill demonstrates how capably she applies a contemporary kinetic intelligence to her background in bharatanatyam. 

The longer, more thematically ambitious piece is Sivaloka, inspired in part by a visit made by Boonham and members of her creative team to the Elephanta caves in Mumbai harbour. Chief among them were Tapan Raj and Gaurav Rainia, a music duo which goes by the moniker Midval Punditz. Portions of their soundtrack were recorded within the cave temple, lending the dance an extra layer of authenticity. Another, more surprising, influence on Boonham was the profoundly vibrant work of Mark Rothko who, as she remarked during a post-show discussion, once compared his paintings to the building of temples. 

Clad in the stylishly understated, pyjama-like costumes of Becs Andrews, Boonham’s dancers began on the floor. Singly and in separate locations each opened up and re-closed again like some rare subterranean flower, unfolding long limbs before returning to a foetal curl. When the women eventually rose upright it was with a slow twist of the torso, a reaching arm topped by splayed fingers or a punctuating stamp. One was held aloft in an almost Olympian fashion upon the shoulders and backs of two others. Various totemic and sculptural configurations ensued, but always with a sense of something awakening or expanding.

The shapes struck by the dancers carried different metaphorical associations. As the music’s pace accelerated, arms branched upwards into a grove. Shortly thereafter a duo of deities clasped hands or achieved balance via foot touching foot; inclining their heads together they suddenly became a pair of glamorous modern women sharing a psychic gossip. In a distinct tonal shift all four dancers then moved about and apart, but in unison patterns as the masterful Guy Hoare’s lighting design played with the mood. 

In the tradition of choreographers who make powerful or mystical cameo appearances in their own work, Boonham herself materialised in a brief strong solo. Striding on with a severe expression she shot out a short series of rapid stamps before an arm sliced the air. This alert, angry god rattled fanning fingers near her face and then exited, shaking a flame-like thumb atop a closed fist placed above the palm of her free hand. 

Post-Boonham the piece contained another fine duet juxtaposing darting dynamism against a more temperate fluidity. At the close the four original women clustered together like a gathered force. The score, occasionally reminiscent of the propulsive resonance of a movie soundtrack, reflected the epic side of Boonham’s thinking. 

The key to Ghatam is rhythm. Said to be inspired by Steve Reich’s composition Drumming, this dance is named after the red clay pot used as a classical Indian instrument and based on its four core sounds. The women pivoted in Moritz Junge’s long, earth-coloured skirts while arms carved the air, an image suggesting mountains defining their own internal space. They swept across the stage on the balls of their feet. Upper limbs snaked about, hands swam like fish. Gradually the movement waxed more measured against the burbling, polyrhythmic beats of the music (again by Midval Punditz). In its final minutes the dance grew too formal for my taste; I felt a slight constraint rather than liberation as I watched. That didn’t stop the audience from breaking into cheers when it ended. There was reason to cheer. ATMA is a company worth clocking.



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