Asian Music and Dance

Tagore: New Voices and Decreasing Infinity

Co-presented by Kadam/Pulse and the Tagore Centre, this varied, ambitious and yet intimate evening of work was in large part inspired by the work – and in particular the poetry – of the incredibly influential Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore. Three short dance-based pieces commissioned for and seen at last November’s Between the Lines seminar were shown, for the first time, in a theatrical setting in tandem with a male duet created by the Leeds-based choreographer Balbir Singh.

 The evening commenced, however, with a solo originally created for Bisakha Sarker by Shobna Gulati in 1994. The revised Song of the City, as it is called, was performed with sincerity and skill by Kali Chandrasegaram. The piece has a simple, clear premise: to portray, to quote the programme, ‘the greed and seduction of the city’. Chandrasegaram has a lush, bounteous presence, his pretty face and ample body epitomising the extremes of epicurean desire and vanity as well as the cost of such insatiable acquisitiveness. It put me in mind of a lesser-known but brilliant quote from Macbeth: ‘My more-having would be as a sauce to make me hunger more.’ Chandrasegaram exuded a grovelling, pitiable majesty that, by the end, has degenerated into absolutely understandable (and stylised) desperation. Altogether neatly done.

My Soul is Alight was redolent of this line from Tagore: ‘I run as a musk deer runs in the shadow of the forest, mad with his own perfume…’ The dancer/choreographer Katie Ryan may not have embodied overt madness but there was a refined precision and quiet rapture in her performance. Her animal/spiritual nature on stage was complemented by Ranjana Ghatak’s soothing, pristine vocals. I also appreciated the just-right way in which Ghatak hovered in the background until the very end, when all that was needed was for the two women to be standing one in front of the other and Ghatak gently placing a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, either as if holding her back or readying her to move forward…  The piece’s pleasurable net result was lulling, allusive and something of a gem.

 The Curse put a contemporary twist on an excerpt from Tagore’s epic poem Biday Abhishap. Arunima Kumar, of the wide, fiercely-haunted eyes, and the pleasingly-voiced singer Sohini Alam shared the stage in a vignette that modernised the notion of the price one pays when wreaking vengeance upon another whom you feel has wronged you. Kumar and Alam were a good double act in their physical proximity to each other and the manner in which Alam gave voice to Kumar’s internal turmoil. The pacing of the duet, however, seemed a tad too slack for the sting in the tale to be quite as sharply felt as might have been the case.

The inspiration for Mahapraan, a collaboration between dancer/choreographer Urja Desai Thakore and composer Mrityunjoy, was Tagore’s poem Praan. The sizable abstract duality being explored here was life and death, or destruction and creation. Thakore’s swift-spun and vivacious presence was balanced by the deeply enjoyable singing of Jatanil Banerjee. (The use of live vocals was, if it’s not already obvious, one of the most attractive features of the entire bill.) What I sensed in this work was the transparent desire to embrace, and share, beauty.

The Tagore-based half of the bill was modest in scale but evinced a certain resonance when viewed consecutively. Before each piece the unseen Jean Riley read live, in English, selected lines from Tagore’s poems clearly but in a tone that was slightly too familiarly sing-song samey – not wanting to impose on the words yet, to my ears, without making sufficient impression. But this is minor quibbling as both singly and collectively this quartet of works honoured their source.

Singh’s Decreasing Infinity juxtaposed two sets of males, one pair – dancers Sooraj Subramaniam and Francis Christeller – kinetically and the other – tabla player John Ball and beatboxer Marv TheRadio ‒ aurally. The latter were positioned on opposite sides of the stage, with Marv TheRadio’s sounds supplementing the compellingly rapid strikes of Ball’s instruments. The dancers occupied the central area which became a sort of competitive arena for their contrasting styles of movement. I say ‘sort of’ because although both men were undeniably attractive to watch, I felt the former had the edge. Why? Subramaniam, in sterling form as a modern classical dancer, used his entire body whereas Christeller, as the representative of western contemporary dance, was mainly limited to arm gestures; I don’t understand why footwork was by and large left out of his vocabulary. Christeller, too, came across as oddly neutral, especially when compared to the hard, bristling temperament of his counterpart. Decreasing Infinity (an opaque title) thus seemed imbalanced, slowly building up into a stronger dynamic only in the home stretch. Still, this creditable piece didn’t at all outstay its welcome and clearly had a positive impact on a cheering audience.



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