The dance performance by Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company at the Laban Centre for Contemporary dance made a kind of history since it was the first time that Laban had presented on its stage a performance of dance other than western contemporary.
Presented by Milapfest, a rich textured and multi-layered dance production on the theme of Timeless was conceptualised and choreographed by Mangaldas and danced by her together with six others of her company. Bursting with high energy, it was a dazzling performance by well-trained dancers displaying excellent technique.
Trained extensively in the classical dance form kathak by great maestros Guru Kumudini Lakhia and Pandit Birju Maharaj, Aditi Mangaldas is acclaimed as a leading dancer working in both traditional and contemporary idioms. In Timeless, she uses kathak as a springboard and cuts across its boundaries to create an exciting signature blend of traditional and new movement vocabulary. Besides kathak all the dancers are well trained in the Indian physical disciplines of kalaripayatu and yoga.
The production challenges the audience to interpret it in their own way. It opens with a group of dancers strategically placed on the stage, some with their backs to the audience. Mangaldas enters spinning around the stage through the bodies with open-armed chakkars – pirouettes. With very effective lighting, it presented the image of cosmic energy flowing through the universe with an indomitable force. Throughout the production dancers execute a variety of chakkars with lightning speed that conveys continuum and timelessness. It is significant that the kathak compositions were not bound to lehera – the melodic phrase set within a time measure – but were recited and danced against a background of bass drone. Strong footwork and earthy movements added to the power of the dance piece.
Music composed by Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan was well integrated into the dance. Live and recorded music joined seamlessly and the musicians became a part of the dance performance. At times, with their instruments, they metamorphosed into dancers rather than the accompanists in the background.
The designing of the dance was mainly through very powerful asymmetrical patterns, robust movements and speed, which was mentally stimulating and exciting for the audience but too much of it can be a little heavy. The audience also needs moments of calm and repose. I believe that the production could be enhanced by the dynamics of balancing the very strong energy with the power of gentle and lyrical expression. Moreover, in some places substitute movements for chakkars would bring in a more varied vocabulary.
There is a trend in the UK at present towards dance theatre. Often voluminous text is used in the form of monologue, dialogue, conversation etc in the productions with dance remaining rather thin. In Timeless it was great to see dance very much in the foreground and the concept expressed through movement, music and poetry.
India-based Aditi Mangaldas needs to be seen more widely in this country so that the audiences are introduced to her varied work.