TILLANA TARANA presented Malavika Sarukkai and Nahid Siddiqui for ‘a feast of classical dance’ that took place at Birmingham’s newly restored Town Hall as part of the International Dance Festival Birmingham co-promoted by Sampad and a major new event for the city produced by DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome. The evening brought a sizeable crowd of approximately 700 people including those that came from afar for this special occasion. It was, after all, a significant event bringing together two of the undisputed queens of classical Indian dance.
The context was fitting in welcoming Siddiqui back after a long absence from Birmingham where she had been based for a good number of years, complemented by Sarukkai who had been seen in the city more recently in the last decade. It was a coup to get them together for this UK exclusive, made possible by Sampad, the Birmingham-based south Asian arts organisation. These admired and respected dance veterans with their unquestioned style and presence, together with their two sets of skillful musicians were certainly leading attractions. I say this with the knowledge that whilst it was also a somewhat frustrating evening for punters due to the scheduled time overrunning, it was still a celebratory experience worth having. It was an event with something for everyone who had even a cursory interest in north and south Indian dance and music. So to the star attractions: starting with Sarukkai who gave us different themes over the five dedicated items focusing on the concept of time explored within the bharatanatyam vocabulary, her section offered Kala Time: states of tranquility and dynamism, the seasons, as well as embracing the temporal nature of its circularity to a point of stillness for the last item Laya, merging silence and sacred space. Sarukkai continues to enthral with her dedication to the form and beguiling portrayals, which show no sign of waning.
For the kathak enthusiasts, Siddiqui presented four items: the free-style improvised alaap; thumri, the semi-classical North Indian melodious mode; tarana, the Hindustani classical vocal music made widespread by Hazrat Amir Khusro throughout India and Pakistan, and with teentaal as the finale with its rhythmic cycle of sixteen beats as the most recognised and essential time cycle to be used in North Indian classical music. Again, her allure remains electric as does her total commitment to classical kathak. Whilst it was mesmerising to watch both these extraordinary artists with their aura and stature, the lighting unfortunately left the audience straining to see their abhinaya, a fundamental aspect of both forms that we could not fully appreciate. However, the musical contribution for both parts of the evening was superb, especially as in Siddiqui’s case, despite the British visa system denying entry to her accompanying Pakistani musicians and vocalists; and leaving only three days to rehearse with a new set of practitioners, they played with great aplomb! Space does not allow me to credit every artist and their influences but it was very helpful to have such a detailed handout as a souvenir to give a real essence of the content and classical heritage that needs to be kept alive.