Within is in two parts. The first part, Knotted, uses contemporary dance based on kathak, yoga and kalari, and the second, Unwrapped, classical kathak.
The choreography is exquisite. Knotted expands the physical expression of the style, using non-kathak movement fluidly and convincingly. To threatening, insistent drumbeats, figures dash across the stage in opposite directions, pausing to spin on their knees before running on. As the piece progresses, with layer upon layer of menacing sound, they slide, they crawl and they dance. The dancers touch in unsettling or confrontational ways. Men and women are used together in an equal way. The use of space was also refreshing as it did not reference the front too much. It was courageous.
The technical brilliance of the company shone in the masterly mixture of ensemble and the breaking of ensemble in both the first and second parts. In Unwrapped, the dancers didn’t fall back on the classical kathak habit (or cliché) of seduction or of flirting with us. The ensembles of dancers – though kathak is a solo form – projected the same quality. The symmetry was tight. The miked floor allowed us to hear how they were always together, even when there was no beat to follow.
The production values were outstanding. The lighting (Fabiana Piccioli), the music and the design were integral to the dance. The inspiration for Unwrapped was a Jain Siddha sculpture: new horizons are opened, one looks at the outline, one looks inside and sees emptiness. This was evoked in a section where the protagonist is dancing alone in the dark centre of a ring of light. Knotted takes place before what seems like a wall of rock, conveying a sense of claustrophobia and impenetrable barriers. But then there is light from behind the rocks; then the walls move apart, as though they had been shutters. The protagonist is silhouetted against the newly-revealed opening.
But what of the concept? In Knotted, Mangaldas is exploring the brutality within us. But who were the figures? Were they a projection of what was within herself? There is light and a storm. A feather floats down. We hear whispering: “What are they saying, who are they talking about?” Her hands move in agitation, almost desperation, as she stands in a square of light. It is as though she can’t bear it. Unwrapped moves from the self-destructive and narcissistic – the mirror trope is injected with new significance – to an opening-out. The familiar theme of seeking one’s lover or the deity is subverted with the realisation that the ‘you’ she addresses when she speaks is herself: “Wrapped up in yourself, you hid from me all day. I looked for you, all day.” Yet it was hard to see how this fitted together choreographically. The first and second half needed more linking, so that the pieces made more sense in terms of form and structure. The fragmentation and disconnect of the first half unfolds too easily and its courage is not carried through into the second half.