Asian Music and Dance

Windows of the Soul

Organised by Kadam Dance as an adjunct of its summer school, and with a top ticket price of only £3, this modest roster of three solos represented incredibly good value for money. Although it lasted less than an hour, the quality level of the work was high enough to make me imagine what it might be like to expand the triple-bill into a two-part programme via the addition of other dances.

Trained in South Asian and contemporary dance, Vipul Bhatti opened the evening with a short but rather tantalising little piece called Not soul-D out. Bare-chested in blue jeans, and taking a profile position centre stage, at first he repeatedly passed a rhythm through his torso and out of his arm. These actions were performed in silence, with the accompaniment of soft piano music only added later. Bhatti, however, knew how to fill both the silence and the stillness. His movements possessed a quiet, lyrical bounce and his spins in particular were musical and undulant. When he paused, the sense of an invisible vibration of motion rippled off his body. Warmly received, this was a small work lasting maybe five minutes. Although there was nothing radical about it, it showed craft and polish and left me wanting more, not out of any dissatisfaction but in the best sense of that desire.

Kalpana Raghuraman is a bharatanatyam practitioner who also has African dance in her background. Touching upon ideas of identity and belonging, her solo Me Tomorrow began as a sober-seeming dance piece that felt somewhat obscure in its intentions. Clad in a pleated dress and sleeveless blouse, and with a full head of tumbledown curls, she conveyed an almost animal alertness. Despite dancing with concentrated confidence she also came across as elusive or, possibly, constrained. In a slightly disjointed string of moves Raghuraman held one-legged balances, dipped down into a squatting pose, stamped her feet, shoulder-shimmied and at one point even tumbled backwards. She also made use of the floor, first in dim light and then a spotlight.

Just when you might have been wondering where this was all going she switched gears and began a monologue. And quite an entertaining one it was too, commencing with a description of a failed blind date and punctuated with witty impressions of friends and family. The gist of the text was Raghuraman’s status as a young, modern and educated single woman whose experience and, above all, outloook went against the grain of her traditional cultural background. Her delivery approached stand-up comedy. Having gotten the words off her chest she was then able to dance in a more liberated, jauntier and playful fashion. Her choreographic layering revealed various influences, from the undulant torso of African dance to looser, more contemporary stylings. At the close Raghuraman strode out of the theatre in wedgies. It was a nice caper to an enjoyable slice of autobiographical dance-theatre.

The finale was the evening’s most elaborate, ceremonial and fun item. Inspired by the eroticism and sensuality of the courtesan dancers of pre-modern southern India, Uma was choreographed by Hari Krishnan for Kali Chandrasegaram. The latter, an imposing figure covered in a veil, descended the central stairs of the tiny venue with three musicians and a narrator in tow. They positioned themselves equidistantly around him, each appropriately bathed in a red light. The piece was said to be a consideration of woman as virgin, lover, wife and goddess. So what was the impact of casting a male dancer in drag as its centrepiece? Considerable. Resplendent in a pink and gold sari, and adorned with a long braid and a nose ring, Chandrasegaram brought both muscular strength and flirtatious beauty to his performance. Although cloaked in an aura of Trocks-like camp, he embodied flickering aspects of desire and sensuality with a genuine majestic flair. His dancing, meanwhile, evinced an exciting swing and speed. The reader of the accompanying text (which, note, began with a hearty ‘Hey you, bitch!’) might have been more forceful and articulate in her delivery, but that didn’t detract one iota from the work’s triumphant ‘You go, girl!’ spirit.



Join the weekly Pulse newsletter and we will send you the latest news and articles straight to your inbox