Pulse asian music and dance
Spring 2012 - Issue 116
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INSIDE Young Musician Hari Sivenesan In the Frame Odissi Ensemble Reviews Aakash Odedra, Kalpana Raghuraman, Divya Kasturi, Sadhana, Ketu H. Katrak, Zoe Rahman
Mapping Out Kathak
New Directions in the Form
Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger
Bharatanatyam Diva Malavika Sarukkai
Looking Back/Looking Forward Celebrating
Hari Krishnan reflects on Unlocking Creativity
sound in print
connecting asian dance and music communities
The International Dance Summer School
Pulse Spring 2012 — Issue 116 ISSN 1476-6019 Published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music c/o The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY +44 (0) 1582 876 038
Editorial Team Commissioning Editor Sanjeevini Dutta
2 3 5
Editorial News Listings
New Directions Kathak in the UK Lucinda Al-Zoghbi follows four artists to see how their unique creative journeys are shaping the way the form is practised in the UK.
Assistants Lucinda Al-Zoghbi Jahnavi Harrison Katie Ryan Design Art Director Pritpal Ajimal Subscriptions & Advertising email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Annual subscription £30 with free delivery Cheques payable to Kadam, c/o The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY. For online subscriptions and payments please visit www.pulseconnects.com
Contacts email@example.com Disclaimer Pulse is published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music. No part of the magazine may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher. Copyright of the text is shared with its authors. Copyright of the photographs/ images reside with contributing photographers/artists. All other rights reserved. The views/opinions expressed in Pulse are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. While reasonable effort has been made to avoid errors, no liability will be accepted for any that may have inadvertently occurred.
In The Frame Simon Richardson takes on the Odissi Ensemble.
When Two Halves Make a Whole... Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger Jahnavi Harrison gets the lowdown from the creative dream team behind Circle of Sound.
Unlocking Creativity: Unlocking Process, Liberating Creativity Long-term UC tutor, Hari Krishnan, reveals what the course means to him.
Young Musician Jahnavi Harrison talks to Hari Sivanesan on being mentored by Aruna Sairam.
In Conversation Sanjeevini Dutta talks to bharatanatyam diva Malavika Sarukkai.
Dance Performances Rising (Aakash Odedra)
Towards Dawn (Kalpana Raghuraman) NowHere (Divya Kasturi) Elixir (Sadhana)
CD Review Kindred Spirits (Zoe Rahman)
Dance Book Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora (Ketu H. Katrak)
connecting asian dance and music communities
Audio Content sponsored by
Discovering with QR
Contents Page Photo Credits FC Balbir Singh Dance Co / Photo: Simon Richardson 3 Erhebung / Photo: Lucy Jenner 6 Amina Khayyam / Photo: Simon Richardson 10 Unlocking Creativity / Photo: Simon Richardson 12 Odissi Ensemble / Photo: Simon Richardson 14 Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger / Photo: Pritpal Ajimal 18 Hari Sivanesan / Photo: Courtesy of the Artist 20 Malavika Surukkai / Photo: Courtesy of the Artist 22 Aakash Odedra / Photo: Chris Nash 24 Zoe Rahman / Photo: llze Kitshoff
SPRING 2012 PULSE 1
UPFRONT — LETTER FROM THE EDITOR / NEWS
Letter from the Editor
Alchemy Festival 2012
The Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival returns in April with an exciting line-up. From 11–22 April there will be music, dance, art and theatre aplenty for you to get involved with – through watching, listening, discussing or tasting. The festival kicks off with Brit Pak, a free event which has been curated by Reedah El-Saie, Director of the Mica Gallery, which will explore cultural identity through the work of emerging British Pakistani artists. It’s a big year for music with names such as Asian Dub Foundation, Susheela Raman, Raghu Dixit Project, Shankar Mahadevan & Purbayan Chaterjee, and Soumik Datta with his current project, Sounds of Bengal. Dance will be represented by a double-bill performance from British-based South Asian dance artists Divya Kasturi and Shane Shambhu. The pair will showcase their current works, Kasturi’s NowHere and Shambhu’s Leaving Only a Trace. Hetain Patel, an artist and poet with Gujarati heritage will use speech, film, music, physical theatre and comedy to explore communication and language and the influence of popular culture. There will also be morning yoga, Bollywood dance workshops and a number of discussions.
Writing this on Holi, the Festival of Colours, with spring hovering in the air, there are reasons to be optimistic: South Asian music and dance is going through a riotously creative phase. Our gorgeous spread of UK musicians, Soumik Datta, Hari Sivanesan and Bernhard Schimpelsberger, rings out the success of the young generation in creating a new sound. When Soumik Datta decided to pick up the sarod and hang it around his neck like a guitar, he sent out a powerful message of the changing times. Behind the razzmatazz though, there was a rigorous pursuit of technical mastery, introspection and experimentation. Soumik adapted the sarod to play chords and Bernhard created a multiple-percussion drum kit so that tabla beats could be treated differently. The duo used technology extensively to layer their music: drum and bass loopstations, delay and distortion pedals added to achieve a ‘raw’ sound. The raga structure was deconstructed and scattered over the playlist. This is exciting work, created in the UK via Indian roots. Our Cover Feature also reveals a peculiarly British twist – an image of a raised leg to illustrate an article on kathak innovators; sacrilege! Yet the choreographer Balbir Singh feels that his kathak training has been a major influence on his work with Western contemporary-trained dancers. When I challenge the writer on where she finds kathak in Balbir’s work, she retorts: “Oh completely, it’s in the intensity, in the connection between the eye and the hand, the music and movement.” This is a radically different way of thinking: the classical training is merely the foundation, the starting-point, while the material created is manipulated and morphs into a new creature. As Shobana Jeyasingh’s mission statement announces: ‘Imagining the future of the body.” We have multiple voices and approaches amongst the four artists followed: Amina Khayyam has an interest in the dramatic possibilities of kathak, Balbir Singh has a penchant for the abstract and Sonia Sabri is navigating ways to keep the technical quality of kathak while absorbing urban influences. Aakash Odedra has created kathak pieces of depth and beauty (Jiya). It all ties in with artist Malavika Sarukkai Sarukkai’s insightful observation, “dance has not been personalised enough”. I take the remark as a comment on the Indian dance scene. Each of the artists featured in Pulse are certainly pushing their individual and unique visions, which makes their work exciting and relevant to today’s audiences. Enjoy the issue – luxuriate in the images shot by Simon and Pritpal, and in the luminous prose of our young writers Jahnavi and Lucinda. Also, please tell another three people you know about Pulse. Sanjeevini 2 PULSE SPRING 2012
Raghu Dixit appearing at Alchemy Festival 2012 | Photo: Southbank Centre
Aspiring Writers Wanted: Pulse at Alchemy It is with great pleasure that Pulse announces its involvement in this year’s Alchemy Festival, an annual South Asian arts event curated by the Southbank Centre which has been a highlight in our calendar since its inception in 2009. Experienced writers and critics, academics and artists lead a series of interactive workshops and discussions aimed at equipping audiences with the expressive tools to articulate their views on the performance experience. Participants will have the opportunity to submit their written reviews, receive feedback and have their work published in the Pulse magazine and website. Kicking things off will be the ‘Art of Seeing’, led by Sanjoy Roy (Dance Critic for the Guardian) and Ansuman Biswas (independent artist), on Thursday 12 April, 6–7.30pm. This session will comprise practical tasks and will be followed by a performance of Hetain Patel’s latest work, Ten. Following on from that will be a two-part course, named ‘The Art of Critical Writing’, which will run on two consecutive afternoons – Saturday the 14th and Sunday the 15th. These sessions will be led by Sanjoy, Melissa Blanco Borelli (Dance Lecturer at the University of Surrey) and Jameela Siddiqi (freelance music writer) and will combine learning new approaches with practical exercises where participants observe, write and share their critical opinions. ‘The Art of Critical Writing’ is open to budding music and dance writers but please note that there will be limited space available. ‘The Art of Listening’ will be the final instalment, an open session aimed at audiences, which will take place on the evening of Sunday the 15th. This will be led by Ansuman and followed by a performance by Soumik Datta. To state your interest for one or all of the sessions please drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org – we hope to see you there!
Kathak Inspired by the Olympics UK kathak artist Sonia Sabri has been working on a project called Encompass which is inspired by the Olympic Games, London 2012. Over the last few months, professional dance artists Toby Norman-Wright and Sonia Sabri and assistant dance artist Anna Belyavin have been running dance and film workshops in schools across Shropshire in partnership with local digital media artists Chris Vandyke and Callum Goodwilliam from the Hive Digital Media and Music Centre. In addition to the workshops, there have been online tutorials which give the opportunity for anyone anywhere in the county, country, or even in other parts of the world, to learn different dance styles. The Encompass website, which will have been launched as this issue went to print, will become one of the latest viral dance crazes, and
NEWS — UPFRONT
visitors to the site can watch and learn a one-minute clip of kathak as choreographed and performed by Sonia. It is hoped that the choreography will inspire people to record their own movement which they can upload back onto the site, and all the recorded clips will be made into a dance film which will become part of the grand finale event in Much Wenlock in July 2012. The dance film will be presented in a spectacular 360-degree igloo dome which can be experienced by up to 600 people at any one time. For more information or to get involved visit: www.encompass360.co.uk
Akram Khan at Olympics Last month (February) it was announced that the internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Akram Khan will be involved in the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Khan will form part of the team of collaborating artists which will be led by the Ceremony’s artistic director, the award-winning British director, Danny Boyle. It’s been a turbulent time for Akram Khan as of late: he was recently given the seal of approval from the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards, winning the title of ‘Best Modern Choreography’ for Vertical Road and has had great success with his current work, DESH, but an injury of the tendon forced him to cancel several performances of the show. Still, this latest development will come as great news to dance lovers everywhere. Khan said: “It is a thrill and an honour to be collaborating with Danny Boyle on the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The eyes of the world will be on London, in what will be one of the most watched performance events of all time. I am recovering well from my recent injury and am looking forward to getting back to preparing for this incredible event.”
Erhebung: A Work in Progress Mayuri Boonham, Artistic Director of ATMA, has been working on a multi-disciplinary research and development project named Erhebung. The
Erhebung | Photo: Lucy Jenner
project sees Boonham collaborate with the sculptor Jeff Lowe and two dancers, Shreya Kumar and Ruth Voon. The choreographic research took place over a two-week period from 16–27 January at the sculptor’s studio in London. The piece has allowed Boonham to explore a new strand in her creativity, one of performance installation, and the integration of choreography and visual art. Following an invitation from Southampton City Art Gallery, Boonham selected art works from their permanent collection that strongly resonated with some of her preliminary research material for the piece. These paintings were showcased at the ART to DANCE exhibition alongside an open public performance-sharing of the Erhebung project research. The choreographic research part of this R&D project has been supported by GemArts, South East Dance, Kadam and Art Asia. Erhebung will be made into a full-length work which, it is hoped, will be available from autumn/ winter 2012 or spring 2013.
Akademi Symposium – Looking for the Invisible Akademi hosted its latest symposium, Looking for the Invisible: The Abstract in South Asian Arts, at The Place on Saturday 25 February, a wonderful afternoon of creative thought and experience with some big names from the arts world. Chaired by Professor Christopher Bannerman of Middlesex University, the symposium opened up a dialogue between artists based in India, including the likes of Sadanand Menon, Sheba Chhachhi and Anita Ratnam with their UK counterparts, Sonia Sabri, Shobana Jeyasingh and Gautam Malkani. Looking for the Invisible
follows an established history of groundbreaking symposiums such as South Asian Aesthetics – Unwrapped! (Royal Opera House), No Man’s Land – Exploring South Asianness (ICA), and Frame by Frame – A Symposium on the Dance of Indian Cinema and its Transition into Bollywood Dancing (Royal Opera House). Later that evening Aakash Odedra gave a performance, also at The Place, entitled Rising – marking the artist’s collaborations with Russell Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Akram Khan.
South Asian Music and Dance Forum On 20 January 2012 the Institute of Musical Research hosted its South Asian Music and Dance Forum at Senate House, SOAS, University of London. The first session included presentations from Mumbai which were conducted via video link between SOAS and the Indian Musicological Society Graduate Conference which covered film, folk and tribal music. After lunch there was a session named New Research in Indian Performing Arts chaired by Richard Widdess, which included Richard David Williams (King’s College London), ‘Participation through poetry in the Radhavallabh Sampraday: music and the divine encounter’; James Sykes (King’s College London), ‘Hearing Like a State: Sri Lanka and the Ethics of Musicology’; Menaka PP Bora (University of Oxford), ‘Mudra, Manuscript & Music: A contemporary study of a 16thcentury Sanskrit manuscript from the Bodleian Library in Oxford.’ The final session, chaired by Anna Morcom continued to explore the new research in the field and included papers by Sangita Shrestova (University of Southern California), ‘Dancing to a Global Bollywood Beat? Between Film and Live Performance’; Stacey Prickett (Roehampton University), ‘Ticking the boxes: kathak, hip-hop and contemporary identities’; Brahma Prakash (Royal Holloway, University of London) ‘Paradox in Performance and Paradox of Performance: Performing a Lower-caste identity in Bihar (India).’ The forum was attended by academics, students, commentators and enthusiasts of South Asian art and culture.
ISTD in India In our last issue, winter 2011, we included two events in our listings from the South Asian dance faculty at ISTD and it is with great pleasure that we can report back to you on how those events unfolded. These were the ISTD’s first-ever presentations in India, which were held in Mumbai and Delhi on 10 and 12 January. The faculty presented on its syllabi in bharatanatyam and kathak, while focusing on what sets the ISTD apart from other schools of training which faculty member, Chitra Sundaram, highlighted was due to the institution’s pedagogical approaches. The participants were said to be particularly intrigued by the clear and considered progression from one grade to the next, the mandatory inclusion of health and safe practice at all levels, and the assessment criteria for the examination process itself. Sujata Banerjee, the faculty Chair, spoke about the reasons behind going to India, “It was
ISTD commitee member, Chitra Sundaram (right) with attendees at the British Council, Delhi Photo: Courtesy of ISTD
important to share our work with our fellow teachers in India and, particularly in a globalised world, it is incredibly valuable to know what others are doing too…” The presentations were successful for the participants and faculty members alike and the British Council, who supported the events, have agreed to host follow-up workshops in India in the future.
Attakkalari Bangalore-based arts organisation Attakkalari has started the year with a bang in the form of classes, workshops and auditions in contemporary movement arts. Auditions for the next intake (2012–2013) of their Movement Arts & Mixed Media diploma have been held in their home city. The course is a one-year intensive which is designed to prepare young dancers for the rigours of further SPRING 2012 PULSE 3
UPFRONT — NEWS
contemporary dance training. In other news, Jayachandran Palazhy, Attakkalari’s Artistic Director and Diya Naidu, a senior member of the Attakkalari Repertory were invited by the
Anjana Anand (Beginners); for kathak, Padmabushan Kumudini Lakhia, assisted by Sanjukta Sinha (Advanced), and Prashant Shah (Intermediate), while the Advanced odissi group will be led by Sujata Mohapatra. Registration is now open and there is an ‘Early Bird’ discount for those who apply before 1 April. So what are you waiting for?
Visiting Arts Launch WorldCulture.Net
Attakalari | Photo: Courtesy of Attakalari
Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, the cultural wing of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany. They conducted a contemporary dance workshop between 6–10 January in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Dance India 2012 Dance India, the international summer school for classical Indian dance, returns to Liverpool this year from 17–24 August. Dancers will be put through their paces by furthering their existing dance training with this intensive week of classes, workshops and performances. This is a great opportunity for
Dance India | Photo: Pradeep Karanjkar at K. Kreatives
dancers to develop their dancing while meeting new people who share their passion for classical Indian dance. The summer school will be held at Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus where students will both live and learn and take advantage of the beautiful gardens and state-ofthe-art theatre. This year’s tutors include: for bharatanatyam, Leela Samson (Advanced), Priyadarsini Govind (Intermediate) and 4 PULSE SPRING 2012
British arts organisation, Visiting Arts, have made it their sole purpose to strive for intercultural understanding within the arts since their inception in 1977. Now, in 2012, they launch a new project to develop their artistic aims – a website to connect artists and organisations. Named worldculture.net, the site provides a network of people and content that builds connections and commerce across the global arts and culture sector. It connects artists with artists, artists with markets and artists with audiences. The website builds on Visiting Arts’ thirtyfive-year history of collecting and sharing information about the sector through its Cultural Profiles. The site launches this year; for further information visit: www.vistingarts.org.uk.
info @beeja.com www.beeja.com
Bharatanatyam classes with focus on body awareness and safe dance practice. A distinc tive method of teaching the form which is both enjoyable and efficient. Classes for adults: beginners to advanced at The Place, Euston, London
Classes for children: beginners and intermediate at Swiss Cottage Community Centre, London; Nupur Arts, Leicester & DanceXchange, Birmingham
Encee Arts present
The Kathak Collective in Autistic is Artistic
1st April 2012 at the Patidar Centre, Wembley 10 dynamic dancers trained by Gauri Sharma Tripathi perform in support of The National Autistic Society. Tickets 020 8795 1648
Soumik Datta India Tour Sarod player and composer Soumik Datta started the new year in India with his collaborator, Arif Khan (the son of tabla doyen Ustad Sabir Khan), premiering on 1 January playing to a packed 500-seater venue in Kolkata. On 7 January the State Governor launched the album, Circle of Sound, at Raj Bhavan. Soumik has expressed his happiness in how the tour is being received: “Working in India has been an eye-opening and powerful experience. I feel blessed”. During the tour Soumik also launched Sounds of Bengal which is a travel documentary/ live concert celebrating the modern identity of Bengal. This project will tour in the UK during April; he will be performing in London at Alchemy on 15 April which is the UK premiere and CD launch, and at Rich Mix on 28 April with Bernhard Schimpelsberger for the UK premiere and CD launch of their project together, Circle of Sound.
The Art of Critical Writing at Alchemy Pulse invites all budding writers to two half-day workshops led by established writers Sanjoy Roy, Melissa Blanco Borelli and Jameela Siddiqui. Develop your skills in observing, planning and writing for reviews, interviews and features. When: Where: Price: Contact:
2-5pm, 14th and 15th April 2012 The White Room @ Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre £20/£12 (includes performance) email@example.com
LISTINGS — UPFRONT
Music Circle of Sound: Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger Performance Centre, Penryn www.amc.org.uk
Dance Kathakbox: Sonia Sabri Company Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke www.ssco.org.uk Dance Workshop for Intermediate and Advanced Kathak: Tina Tambe ‘Shishukunj’, 25-27 High Street, Edgware, London firstname.lastname@example.org
Dance Classic Cut: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London www.roh.org.uk
Dance Ekalya: Sonia Sabri Company Community Hall, North Wraxhall, Chippenham, Wiltshire www.ssco.org.uk
Dance Ekalya: Sonia Sabri Company Bishopstone Village Hall, Salisbury, Wiltshire www.ssco.org.uk
Dance/Music Aagaami: Young dancers and musicians from Bhavan (UK) in association with Milapfest Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre www.southbankcentre.co.uk 18
Music An Evening of Hindustani Classical Music: Nilam Sharma, Gurbaksh Singh Matharu, Pandit Vishwa Prakash, Shri Saleel Tambe Museum of Asian Music, London www.amc.org.uk Dance Classic Cut: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company mac, Birmingham www.macarts.co.uk
Dance Anant - Endless/ I, Within (DoubleBill): Pagrav Dance Company Arts Depot, London www.artsdepot.co.uk
Dance Unlocking Creativity Shorts: Various Artists Hat Factory, Luton www.thehatfactory.org
Music Circle of Sound: Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore www.soumik.info
Dance/Music Utsav: Indian Dance and Music Festival:Various Artists Madcap, Wolverton, Milton Keynes
Dance AKADEMI Mixed Bill: Shane Shambu and Arunima Kumar Rich Mix, London www.richmix.org.uk
Alchemy Festival, Southbank Centre London - 11-22 April 2012
Music Music for the Mind and Soul: Various Artists The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milapfest.com
Dance Anant - Endless/ I, Within (DoubleBill): Pagrav Dance Company Chrysalis Theatre, Milton Keynes www.pagravdance.com Dance Classic Cut: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company The Brewhouse, Taunton www.thebrewhouse.net
Dance Anant - Endless/ I, Within (Double-Bill): Pagrav Dance Company Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham www.saa-uk.org.uk
Music Borderland: Soumik Datta mac, Birmingham www.amc.org.uk
Music Kailash Kher Symphony Hall, Birmingham www.amc.org.uk Music Darbar: Gurmit Singh Virdee, Sukhwinder Singh, Dharamabir Singh The Curve, Leicester www.curveonline.co.uk Music Borderland: Soumik Datta Dartington Festival, Devon www.soumik.info Music Soumik Datta’s ‘Sounds of Bengal’ UK premiere and CD launch Alchemy Festival, Southbank Centre, London www.southbankcentre.co.uk Theatre Mustafa: Kali Theatre mac, Birmingham www.amc.org.uk
Music Asian Spring 2012: Various Artists Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham www.amc.org.uk Music Circle of Sound: Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger The Curve, Leicester www.curveonline.co.uk
Music Rhythm Is The Soul Of Music: Sandeep Raval The Curve, Leicester www.curveonline.co.uk Dance Kathak Collective 2012 - ‘Autistic is Artistic’: Encee Arts Patidar House, Wembley email@example.com
Hetain Patel & Shane Solanki: Work in Progress
Rasa: Looking for Kool Dr. L. Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamoorthy & Ambi Subramaniam Pulse at Alchemy: The Art of Seeing 13
Bickram Ghosh, Papon and Rachel Sermanni
Humble the Poet Confluence with SAMYO, the National South Asian Youth Orchestra
15 Dance Elixir: Sadhana Dance Company Rich Mix, London www.richmix.org.uk
Lui Zhenyun and Neel Mukherjee Pulse at Alchemy: The Art of Listening 16
Dance Just Jhoom! Fitness Certification Course (Bronze Level): Just Jhoom! Surrey Sports Park: Guildford www.justjhoom.co.uk
Dance/Music/Theatre Wah! Wah! Girls — A British Bollywood Musical: Javed Sanadi, Gauri Sharma Tripathi, Tanika Gupta, Emma Rice, Pravesh Kumar The Curve, Leicester www.curveonline.co.uk Dance Desi Moves Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham www.idfb.co.uk Music Music for the Mind and Soul: Tarun Bhattacharya, Pravin Godkhindi Bridgewater Hall, Manchester www.milapfest.com Dance Elixir: Sadhana Dance Company Espinosa Centre, Berkhamsted www.sadhanadance.com
Sounds of Bengal Pete Lockett Rajasthan Collaboration
Dance Karan Pangali - The Dance Of Bollywood: Kspark Dancers The Curve, Leicester www.curveonline.co.uk
Dance Elixir: Sadhana Dance Company Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport www.sadhanadance.com
Shiraz & The Sabri Ensemble Asian Dub Foundation
Music Soumik Datta’s ‘Sounds of Bengal’ UK premiere and CD launch Rich Mix, London www.richmix.org.uk
Dance Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration in Harrow : Srishti – Nina Rajarani Dance Creations Krishna-Avanti Primary School, Edgware, London www.srishti.co.uk
Music Music for the Mind and Soul: Rajeeb Chakraborty The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milapfest.com
Lecture In Conversation with Amit Chaudhuri Library Theatre, Birmingham www.amc.org.uk Spoken Word/Music A Moment of Mishearing: Amit Chaudhuri The Drum, Birmingham www.amc.org.uk
Dance Anant - Endless/ I, Within (Double-Bill): Pagrav Dance Company Seven Arts Centre, Leeds www.saa-uk.org.uk
Music Sanju Sahai & Mehboob Nadeem Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon www.asianartsagency.co.uk 17
Dance/Music Karnatic Vocal Concert and solo classical bharatanatyam: Y. Yadavan and Nina Rajarani MBE Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Music Hospital Arts— Indian music: Udit Pankania, Jonathan Mayer Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London www.amc.org.uk Dance Ekalya: Sonia Sabri Company Great Bedwyn Village Hall, Marlborough, Wiltshire www.ssco.org.uk
Dance Classic Cut: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company The Core at Corby Cube, Corby www.thecorecorby.com
Music/Dance/Theatre Dhamaka 2012 - The Bollywood Spectacular: Sonu Nigam, Atif Aslam & Bolly Flex 02 Arena, London www.dhamaka.co.uk
Dance Rising: Aakash Odedra The Curve, Leicester www.curveonline.co.uk
Music Circle of Sound: Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger Performance Centre, Penryn www.amc.org.uk Music Monthly Satsang— Sitar Recital: Clem Alford, Jivamukti London Collective Jivamukti Yoga Centre, London www.jivamuktiyoga.co.uk
Nikesh Shukla - The Ethnic Writer How to Avoid Labels Susheela Raman and Pakistan Quawaalis Sachal Jazz Ensemble Lok Virsa: Without Borders
Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti Divya Kasturi & Shane Shambu Double Bill Shazia Mirza, Ziauddin Sardar and Kamila Shamsie The Raghu Dixit Project with Members of Bellowhead
When Spring Comes
Pakistani Folk Dance Workshop Folk Songs & Rhythms of Pakistan Shankar Mahadevan & Purbayan Chatterjee
Let’s Dance International Festival, Leicester - 12-27 May 2012 www.ldif.co.uk 12
Signatures: Subhash Viman, Aakash Odedra and others
Agua de Rosas (Sharmini Tharmaratnam)
24 May Dance/Music/Theatre Wah! Wah! Girls — A British – 23 June Bollywood Musical: Javed Sanadi, Gauri Sharma Tripathi, Tanika Gupta, Emma Rice, Pravesh Kumar Peacock Theatre, London www.sadlerswells.com
Ticket 2 Bollywood
The Art of Seeing: A One-Day Course on Critical Viewing and Creative Writing - Pulse magazine
Band Bajaa Baraat
Dance Kathakbox: Sonia Sabri Company Solihull Arts Complex, Solihull ww.ssco.org.uk
Music Music for the Mind and Soul: Tarun Bhattacharya, Pravin Godkhindi The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milapfest.com
Daksha Sheth Company
SPRING 2012 PULSE 5
New Directions: Kathak in the UK
“Kumi-bhen said: ‘don’t worry, dance is inside of you’” Amina Khayyam
6 PULSE SPRING 2012
Balbir Singh with dancers Ezekiel Oliveira and Sooraj Subramanian
“Singh entered kathak through his initial training in contemporary dance.”
t may be niche, but kathak dance is well established in the UK. So when approaching the mammoth task of acknowledging the many ways in which it is practised, how does one even begin to cover all angles? In a nutshell, it can’t be done. There are too many layers to peel back, too many issues, influences, collaborations, artistic policies that operate and so this project took a while to gain momentum. But here we are with four artists – Amina Khayyam, Aakash Odedra, Sonia Sabri and Balbir Singh – who have an abundance of performance repertoire which gives great scope for comment. This article aims to highlight what’s happening out there, in the dance studios and theatres across the country, and the kathak pathways which are being created. The four artists all share a great passion and talent for kathak, but that’s where the similarities end. They’ve all taken very different routes and their artistic discoveries are ones of great sentiment and integrity but how did they get to where they are today? Aakash Odedra began his training with Nilima Devi at the age of 8 but there were early signs of a dancer waiting to get out long before that. “As I grew up everything was dance,” he begins, “...from how to open a door; close a door; pick up a glass. I used to play with coins on the table and shift them and I used to think: if these were dancers where would I place them? Now I look at it and I think of it as choreography...” Rather unlike him, Balbir Singh began his kathak training much later, in his early 20s, following a few workshops which led him to train with his peer, Akram Khan, during their time at Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Yes, that’s right folks; Singh entered kathak through his initial training in contemporary dance. “I then began training with Pratapji, Pratap Pawar, I did my Rangmanch Pravesh in, I think, 2002, at a studio in Bradford,” he tells me. In a similar way, Amina Khayyam started training much later than most, “The norm for learning any dance style is to start as early as possible but in my case it proved otherwise – the older I got, the better my technique developed.” While Sonia Sabri began her kathak journey by complete accident – she’d enrolled in a bharatanatyam class at the mac in Birmingham but, while waiting for the class to start, her father put her into the kathak class with Nahid Siddiqui. And the rest, as they say, is history. Their training, be it from an early or late stage, has certainly stood them in good stead and they are now witnessing the well-deserved fruits of their labour. What’s remarkable, though, is the way that they never forget the people who helped them on their journey. Odedra, for example, modestly states that: “A big part of my credit is down to Nilima Didi.” In fact, he credits a long line of teachers with whom he has worked, whether their input has lasted years, months or even weeks, but it’s the bharatanatyam Guru, Chhaya Kanvateh, whom he pinpoints as the significant role in his training: “Now I think of it, it’s because of her that my kathak changed, because my bharatanatyam changed. It was seven days a week, all hours of the day...,” he recalls and, as a result, it’s that level of intensity which marked his commitment to the form and so the transition from dancer to artist was made. Likewise, Khayyam recalls a workshop with Kumudini Lakhia which came at a difficult time in her life. “I found myself wanting to apologise for my not keeping up on that day,” she tells me, “but before I could finish my sentence Kumi-bhen said: ‘don’t worry, dance
Kathak in the UK
”Odedra adds: ‘the intention... has to remain true’”
Words by Lucinda Al-Zoghbi PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON RICHARDSON
Think kathak innovators in the UK and one name jumps, turns and leaps out in front of you: Akram Khan. This is the man who has created a string of successful choreographic works which contemporise his classical Indian dance training whilst bringing cultural and social issues to the fore. Khan is indeed a dance celebrity of our time. However, is Khan is the only one to be so innovative, so creative with the form? Pulse looks at four UK-based dancers who are taking kathak in their own direction.
is inside of you.’” That vivid memory has remained with Khayyam, acting as a source of strength during the rigours of her dance training. Sabri pays homage to her Guruji who inspired her to pursue her dancing further. Talking to Pulse back in 2010, issue 109, Sabri spoke of Nahid Siddiqui’s ‘passion and drive’ which she found incredibly infectious, adding that: “...she spoke about, and danced, kathak as if there was nothing else in the world.” That level of devotion and focus to any dance form, art form, life form, can surely only strengthen it. And strengthen it they have; these artists are pioneering the form in this country – but inspiration is only one side of it. There has also been opportunity and, of course, talent. “Sushmita Didi had left the UK to settle back to India,” Khayyam remembers, “and she asked each of her senior students to create a five-minute piece. At first, I freaked out at the thought of it but after time I found the courage and I ended up making a twenty-minute piece!” This opportunity came as a distinct moment in her journey: “I found myself working with some of the biggest names from the contemporary and kathak dance world which gave me a tremendous amount of exposure.” Since then, Khayyam has found direction in creating contemporary work using her kathak training while drawing on influences from art, theatre and film. Odedra, who spent most of last year in the studio working with three big names on the international contemporary dance scene – namely Russell Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Akram Khan – compares his experience of working with choreographers from different dance worlds. “In kathak there’s a formality and if you don’t learn the formality then you don’t learn the art form,” he begins. “There’s that level of respect, the behaviour and mannerisms in the class but with the choreographers it’s completely different. You have to be completely open and be ready to make a complete fool of yourself because, if you don’t do that then you won’t be able to open up to the next phase in your dance.” While there is a distinction between what the kathak Guru and the contemporary ‘Guru’ require of their muse, in essence, they are both striving for the same thing. Odedra adds: “the intention and the honesty that you have to bring to what you’re doing has to remain true.” In other words the artist’s integrity must always remain intact, regardless. Opportunity arose in a very different way for Singh whose specific line of enquiry has been supported by Arts Council England. “It was incredibly frustrating when I began to bring kathak and contemporary together,” he tells me, “...particularly when I wanted to work with contemporary dancers.” Singh speaks of a lack of time and resources to devote to previous projects but, thanks to a nine-month project supported by ACE, he has been able to work more closely with his dancers in order to train and educate them in the form. He asserts that “It’s not about turning them into ‘kathak dancers’ as such,” no, it’s their engagement with the form and how it works. “I wanted them to grasp the intention and purpose behind it, some understanding of the technique and the connection with live music which allowed us to explore, in more detail, how these different voices in different styles come together,” he explains. You could, perhaps, say that Singh’s work is something of diverse dance for the way it ticks boxes – his ethnicity combined with the ‘fusion’ of dance forms – but money makes the world go round and SPRING 2012 PULSE 7
New Directions: Kathak in the UK left to right—Amina Khayyam, Aakash Odedra, Sonia Sabri Company Kathakbox
“What I find more appropriate is the word ‘synthesis’” Balbir Singh
dance artists need to tick boxes in order to get the money to keep working and creating. But more on the tick-box culture later. Anyway, Singh wouldn’t call it fusion. “What I find more appropriate is the word ‘synthesis’,” he asserts, “and the synthesising of several things to make something else.” In other words, bringing together kathak and contemporary with live music. Talking of music, Singh explains how his kathak background has shaped his approach to the form. “From day one it’s very much about working with live music. For me the music informs the movement and the movement informs the music – it’s an organic relationship that develops throughout the process.” That organic approach in Singh’s work relates back to Khayyam who speaks of her experience in creating compositions. “Often I go into rehearsal knowing exactly what I want, from the tune to even the lyrics,” she explains. “My musicians embrace this while infusing their expertise and it’s that level of collaboration which brings those initial ideas to life.”
Abstract vs Narrative While kathak began as a form of storytelling by the kathakars, who would travel from town to town with stories of the gods and goddesses to educate and entertain, it became equally absorbed with abstract qualities of shape and rhythm in its second phase under Muslim rulers. Or at least, this is the commonly-held belief. However, what can be said confidently is that these two fundamental elements – abstract and narrative; pure dance and expressional or nritta and nritya – continue to provide inspiration to artists who identify more closely with one or the other. The eternal debate of form versus meaning or meaning existing within the form is embraced by our kathak interpreters. For Khayyam, kathak’s expressional element plays an important part in how the form is received in the UK. “Abhinaya has the power to move anyone,” she muses, “we cannot ignore the power of rasa; it can touch any one of us…” Much to her surprise, she speaks of narrative aiding the performance, not hindering it, even for those who don’t understand the language or movement gestures. It’s the power in abhinaya, that Khayyam 8 PULSE SPRING 2012
“It’s the power in abhinaya,.. which transcends the cultural barriers“
“I’ve always been drawn to the abstract more than the literal” Balbir Singh
mentioned earlier, which transcends the cultural barriers. To that end, audiences become far more receptive to a narrative than the amalgamation of unfamiliar qualities that kathak can bring to the untrained eye; the soft yet angular lines of the body, for example, or the fast tatkar footwork or the ghungaroo bells, for that matter. Although their practice and performance work informs their perspective, we mustn’t forget that these ‘new’ audiences are not usually acquainted with the context in which the narrative operates and that can become problematic, both for the audience and the artist. One man who’s going against the grain is Balbir Singh for the way he focuses on the abstract element of the form. “I’ve always been drawn to the abstract more than the literal; I have a natural connection to it. I enjoy rhythm and creating a mood from it in order to retain interest for myself and the audience.” When you put it like that it sounds great – “creating a mood” through the abstract – but does it actually work? And how does it work? I have to admit I was a little sceptical but then I saw the company in rehearsal for Decreasing Infinity (a male duet which received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival and which will continue to tour this year), and then my scepticism morphed into something more like admiration. It’s the level of intensity, of integrity, between choreographer to his dancers, dancer to dancer, dancer to musician, musician to choreographer – it’s all inexplicably connected. The eyes, which follow each gesture; dart around the room; burn as they meet the gaze of another, that are the mirrors to the soul and it’s in the eyes which a seemingly non-narrative work becomes so strong, deep, evocative that it couldn’t be more narrative. There is such intent and reason behind each and every minute detail that I am completely entranced. The unwritten narrative plays out before me and I’m left feeling completely connected and moved. Remarkable. Another point to highlight is Singh’s ongoing mission to “retain interest” which, I suppose, means to reach new audiences by making the work more accessible. He openly admits that he has a short attention span so, then, his work takes on the role of stimulating the spectator; to get them to think and ask questions about the form. “It’s about constantly engaging them and taking them on a
“...if it’s done really well then there’s no need for explanation“ Aakash Odedra
journey so that they can’t, at any point, relax or turn off,” he continues. When asked about the complexities of abhinaya, Odedra expresses his belief that a good dancer can transcend the difficulties in cultural translation. “I think if it’s done well people will understand,” he begins, “but sometimes even we, who have trained in kathak, find it hard to understand. But if it’s done really well then there’s no need for explanation or anything.” For someone who’s dubbed as ‘the rising star of South Asian dance’, Odedra has a tremendous amount of understanding and appreciation for the form. He tells me about a compliment someone once gave him: “This person said to me ‘What’s nice is that your nritta has abhinaya; your technique has expression.’ We classify abhinaya and dance as separate things but why can’t dance be abhinaya?” He touches on a core issue: why are the two separate? An issue which needs to be addressed.
Urban Kathak Artists are rare and passionate beings who are impressionable and easily inspired by new experiences that they encounter. Our four kathak artists work in a different creative environment to that in which the form has previously existed and so, as a result, their work becomes informed by that environment: Sabri explains that “...you become exposed to those trends, those aesthetics and of course that feeds into your work – I think you’d actually have to work very hard to block all of those things out.” In a similar way, Singh finds that he is “creatively informed” by many different styles of dance to which he is exposed, whether that’s by working with artists from other disciplines or by seeing different kinds of work in performance. Following on from that, Khayyam openly admits that “If I didn’t respond to the environment I’m in, then I’m not being truthful to my art.” Sabri mirrors that with her musings on kathak, “That’s the beauty of one art form that can look so different because of where it’s placed.” And so we reach a crossroads, where all four of our artists emerge on a common ground. They’ve each made their own way to this point by following their own artistic pathways and this common ground is the ‘what happens next’. In order to address the
“Urban kathak is about looking at how young people behave” Sonia Sabri
“...it will still remain what it is, just in a different shell”
current and future status of kathak, we now need to look at one of the terms which has been assigned to the form, namely ‘urban kathak’. This concept has been initiated by Sabri, with particular reference to her current work, Kathakbox, as a way of reflecting kathak practice in the UK. Sabri highlights that labelling, tick-box culture cannot be escaped, whether we like it or not it. “Right from census forms, Arts Council application forms, to marketing to press – they all want to define you because it’s easier to understand,” she adds. That kathak is practised in the UK will naturally affect how it is received and when people don’t understand what it is or where it comes from, it might be more helpful to make them understand by making it relevant, or at least more accessible, to them. Sabri believes that kathak’s movement language can be modernised and still be kathak. “It derives from rural India where women still go to a well to fill their pots of water but now you can have that same woman, who’s going to the well, walking down Oxford Street – shopping, on her mobile phone. Urban kathak is about looking at how young people behave, what their emotional canvas is like, what their view of the world is, right down to how they move in an urban setting.” While Singh proclaims ‘urban kathak’ is news to him, he does, however, acknowledge that we need artists to put forward their own interpretations of the form in order for it to survive. “It’s interesting to see how people take things and make something different which is great as a part of individual expression because at the core it still comes down to the traditional schooling and training.” Khayyam agrees that if kathak is at the heart of this term then it is a positive step to carrying the form forward: “we should explore the possibilities while remaining truthful to our tradition of kathak. We have a responsibility to do so,” she tells me. Interesting, isn’t it, that these labels are being thrown around in order to counteract the existing labels; it’s like a never-ending cycle or a tala, if you will. Khayyam is of the firm belief that exploring the form in a different way will not diverge from “the spirit of kathak”, and, while the form is evolving, it will still remain what it is, just in a different shell. She also observes how there are many kathak dancers living and practising in the UK, so there is bound to be a new style emerging in response to the new experiences and environment. On a similar note, Odedra observes that: “when it was performed in the temples it had a different body language, lines and intention; it was about the gods and goddesses, then it went to the courts and it changed; with all the poetry the movements became more lyrical. Now we’re in a different place, this urban environment and the way we practise it reflects that urban environment.” That he, and the other artists, speak so openly and passionately about where we are today with kathak in the UK reveals how vital their voices and experiences are. It’s all part of shaping and innovating the form. I’ll leave you with a closing thought from our rising star: “We’re no longer at the point where we need to talk about technique, no longer at the point where we need to talk about our patrons. Now we’re on a stage which is a contemporary stage and whether you choose to do a traditional item or a contemporary item, your presentation has to change – you have to be able to cater it to those audiences, it has to live on, your art form has to evolve.”
SPRING 2012 PULSE 9
CHOREOGRAPHY COURSES: UNLOCKING CREATIVITY
Unlocking Creativity Unlocking Process, Liberating Creativity
Words by HARI KRISHNAN / PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON RICHARDSON
10 PULSE SPRING 2012
In the last issue we looked at South East Dance ChoreoLab 2011. Another initiative for the choreographic development of South Asian artists has been in place since 2008, set up by Kadam and run in partnership variously with sampad, CICD and the Hat Factory, Luton. Hari Krishnan who has led the four Unlocking Creativity programmes shares his vision for UC and the insights gained over the years.
“…It is solely focused on process”
“The intellectual questioning is balanced by practical exercises”
Unlocking Creativity on youtube
ince 2008, I have had the privilege of interacting and collaborating with a number of committed and talented dance artists from all over the world in a unique choreographic experiment, Unlocking Creativity (hereafter UC). The brainchild of Kadam’s director Sanjeevini Dutta, UC is a necessary and timely venture for serious South Asian dance artists. It enables participants to recognise, decode and experiment with received dance vocabulary; discuss the familiar problem of ‘innovation’ in culturally- and historically-specific forms of movement; and re-think ways of knowing one’s body and its relationship to space and time. The uniqueness of UC lies in the fact that it is solely focussed on process and the question of ‘how one makes work’. It equips dance artists with new tools, and demonstrates, in a concrete manner, how to invent a piece of choreography from a variety of perspectives. One of the primary interests as a tutor for UC is to see how dancers create highly personal choreographic sensibilities by drawing from the dance vocabularies they bring into the lab. My own choreographic work consistently pushes the boundaries of bharatanatyam dance in a variety of ways, enabling new understandings. I choose to locate dance in the wider cultural sphere – in the midst of contested ideas of the body, sexuality, gender and class. My play on choreographic and staging techniques articulate a distinctly modern South Asian sensibility. I live and make my art in the West, informed by my Canadian context, and yet I seek to infuse bharatanatyam with a new creative energy that retains the aesthetic integrity of the form, and allows it to speak to a new contemporary audience. These personal meditations on the creative process and the larger knowledge systems engendered by bharatanatyam fuel my passionate and thorough participation as a member of the UC faculty. UC provides the participants with a safe environment for ‘freeplay’ and encourages them to take choreographic risks. The artist’s motivations, temperament, politics, desire for experimentation and openness to collaboration, along with her ability and skill are some of the key factors that impact the choreographic process. The identification of these elements and how the choreographer can harness these qualities is an insight which the mentors try to pass on to the participants. Over the four years UC has invited an array of choreographers from South Asian and Western Contemporary traditions including Jonathan Burrows, Eva Recacha, Nahid Siddiqui, Rama Vaidyanathan, Mayuri Boonham and Bisakha Sarker. UC deploys pedagogic techniques such as ‘choreographic games’ and ‘icebreakers’ that orient the group to every participant’s extant movement vocabulary and to enable participants to think in the abstract. The larger goal of these activities is to provoke the participants to explore their intentionality (i.e. why they choreograph and what it is about the choreographic process that interests them). The intellectual questioning is balanced by practical
“UC encourages its participants to embrace a variety of aesthetics”
exercises in which participants are exposed to multiple ways of generating movement. The linear progression of how choreography unfolds in classical Indian dance (usually dictated by the music or text) is juxtaposed against the rearrangement of choreography in non-linear ways that allow random elements to enter the perfect symmetry of classical arrangements. Working in the abstract generates a number of key issues around process: Does the artist deliberately enter the work with a set of ideas? Is the first phase of creative process restricted to “thinking through” movement possibilities? Does the crafting of physical movement commence later? I am interested in the organic flows of decision-making, the generation of ideas and meaning from those choices, and finally the transformation of those ideas into tangible results (a finished work). Participants who come to UC as solo ‘classical Indian dancers’ very often work in isolation which causes fatigue and a sense of intellectual seclusion. UC implodes this by offering new ways of working collaboratively. Participants are constantly encouraged to place themselves in various social environments to aid creativity through discussions and exchanges. These enable the participants to come out of their own comfort zones to consider forging interpersonal relationships in the studio as a means of deepening and maturing their craft. Another unique feature of UC is its focus on re-thinking the categories of the ‘classical’ and ‘contemporary’. This highly problematic dyad has been at the centre of much of my own scholarly research, which has critically interrogated bharatanatyam from post-colonial perspectives. UC encourages its participants to embrace a variety of aesthetics in the creative process. If, for example, a participant chooses to engage in the creative process by solely working within the vocabulary of one dance style, there is no pressure to pander to a kind of universal or generic notion of what ‘contemporary dance should look like’. UC is extremely sensitive about providing personal voices to participants in the studio where the emphasis is to constantly maximise one’s own potential, as opposed to creating a common yardstick for aesthetic excellence. Participants have the luxury of observing at close proximity various ways in which choreography is broken down, observing each other’s idiosyncrasies in the studio, and analysing how disparate elements of dance-making come together to create a single choreography. Tutoring participants in UC fascinates me because it makes transparent the frankness and integrity with which they approach the creative process. Each moment in the studio can be one of tremendous vulnerability, but UC transforms this, through innovative acts of communication, accessibility and aesthetic validation. UC participants are thus able to consider the final versions of their choreography as the result of a rich, highly-textured, and cumulative learning experience. UC 5 2012 to be held at the Hat Factory in Luton on Saturday 28th April, will be facilitated by two past participants: Kali Chandrasegaram and Kalpana Raghuraman. Hari Krishnan is a dancer, choreographer, dance scholar and teacher, and is artistic director of the Toronto-based dance company inDANCE (www.indance.ca). He is also Professor of Dance in the Department of Dance at Wesleyan University (Connecticut, USA). He has been as involved as a tutor for Unlocking Creativity since its inception in 2008. SPRING 2012 PULSE 11
IN THE FRAME— ODISSI ENSEMBLE
Odissi Ensemble PHOTOGRAPHY BY simon richardson
12 PULSE SPRING 2012
ollowing the success of their premiere performance Shades of Love back in November at the Hat Factory in Luton, the Odissi Ensemble looks forward to planning and rehearsing for their 2012 UK tour. The Ensemble had brilliant feedback from their first audience and they are keen to share their work with more venues around the country. Catch them at this yearâ€™s Alchemy Festival where they will be performing a work in progress at YUVA, a platform that recognises the talent of young emerging artists, on Sunday 22 April.
Khavita Kaur and Katie Ryan Scheherazaad Cooper and Sitara Thobani Oddisi Ensemble performing Shades of Love
SPRING 2012 PULSE 13
When Two Halves Make a Whole...Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger
When Two Halves Make a Whole... Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger Words by JAHNAVI HARRISON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY PRITPAL AJIMAL
14 PULSE SPRING 2012
Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger are causing quite a stir on the international music scene; from country to country they go, spreading their new and innovative sounds far and wide. Jahnavi Harrison catches up with the pair as they get ready to launch their latest collaborative project.
“…their output is arguably a true picture of the musical fabric of our generation”
’m sitting in a cafe with Bernhard Schimpelsberger, one half of the creative duo that wowed audiences last summer with the premiere of Circle of Sound. The other half, Soumik Datta, is thousands of miles away in Kolkata, touring another project. Bernhard has been unexpectedly grounded for a week as a run of Akram Khan shows in the US have been cancelled due to injury. These are musicians in demand. I have a list of questions ready, first up – “How do you think you are pushing the boundaries of Indian classical music?” A pause, then we both cringe. The idea that a production like Circle of Sound should fit into the narrow parameters of ‘Indian classical music’ or even that it is setting out to redefine them in some way, has never felt so dated. As with so many young musicians today, their output is a unique mix of what they love – sometimes jumbled to the ear of a purist, but arguably a true picture of the musical fabric of our generation. Both musicians took unexpected journeys into the world of Indian classical music. As a teenager, Bernhard arrived late to an Indian music workshop in his native Austria. Already a drum fanatic, he instantly hit it off with the teacher, the well-known tabla master Pt Suresh Talwalkar. “After two hours of playing together, he asked to meet my parents,” he laughs. “He asked my mum seriously if I could drop out of school and come to India for five years.” It didn’t work out at the time, but almost a decade and many visits later, he is one of the few people in the world playing the drum kit and cajon with such an in-depth knowledge of classical tabla technique. Soumik had a similarly late start to sarod, an instrument he knew nothing about until his stray cricket ball hit the case of his grandmother’s old one in the garden shed. After coming to England from India at a young age, an all-boys boarding school was a quick, intense immersion into an alien culture. His stowaway sarod kept him company – “I used to sleep with it actually – quite a lot,” he reminisces. “I got in a lot of trouble with my matron, but it kept a link alive to my Indian roots.” This first experience of integrating two cultures was a powerful one, and sparked a fascination. Not long after, he was studying for three weeks a year with Pt. Buddhadev Das Gupta, one of the most renowned sarod masters in the world. It seems natural, then, for the two to have connected so easily and created a show that is already making waves, both in the Indian music and mainstream arts worlds. “When I met Bernhard, he really related with my experiences,” says Soumik. “He’s this Austrian guy who speaks Marathi, playing Indian music on his Western drum kit, and
“I could feel that in the lines I was playing, there is so much movement…”
I wanted to play all the guitar licks my friends were playing, so I customised my instrument – now I can play chords and all kinds of things that have not been tried before on sarod.” “Soumik is such a good musician – for me that’s the most important thing,” says Bernhard. “Technique and structure should never be felt – they should always take a back seat. I also enjoy Soumik’s approach to rhythm – he always takes me out of my comfort zone.” The feeling is mutual from Soumik. “I paid him to say that,” he jokes, “but really, I’m constantly amazed by his playing, and that is the driving force of this collaboration. There is a mutual respect and communication – we’re always finishing each other’s sentences now. I also love not always taking the front line – it’s an unusual position in the context of a classical soloist.” Both too, have done more than just “play our instruments in a different way”, as Soumik simply puts it. He studied a Masters in Western Composition at Trinity College while they began to collaborate, and contributed film and animation sequences to the production. Bernhard has delved further into sound design. Both have worked extensively with dancers, most notably Akram Khan, and the inspiration is clear in their work. “I saw him moving and I wanted to stand up and play,” says Soumik. “I could feel that in the lines I was playing, there is so much movement – an infinitely free source of power, bouncing off the walls, but in Indian classical music normally the person playing it is just sitting on the floor.” Hollowing out chunks of heavy wood from his instrument and adding a strap made this possible. Bernhard, too, plays a customised drum set – an armoury of rhythmic tools that enable him to create rich soundscapes. But he equally expresses the complexity of Indian rhythm on more simple drums. “I believe that it’s not so much about playing an instrument,” he says. “The instrument is like the car – you can drive any car. The tabla is like the Mercedes – you have all the lights and the leather seats, but the cajon is like the Fiat, or a Tata Nano! I just worry about the music.” That said, both the album and the live show use technology like loopstations, delay pedals and distortion pedals. Despite retaining elements of the classical structure, Soumik says, “We wanted to move away from the typical sound and bring in a more raw element. Technology has helped us discover new sounds from our instruments that are risky, unorthodox, cutting-edge and more representative of the age in which we live.” This unorthodox sound extends to the rhythmic forms and treatment of raga too. From the sensitive brushwork of Bernhard emerges a furious drum and bass bandish that perfectly maintains the ten-beat time cycle of jhaptal. Other elements like alap and jod were similarly incorporated in unconventional ways. “There are passages of alap in the album but they are scattered through the playlist and offer the listener a sense of contemplation and calm before they launch into another rhythmic number. This is a very different approach to the way alap is traditionally used – a slow, one-time-only unravelling of the raga. Jod is also used but it is usually only played by the melody instrument. Here, there is a to and fro-ing between the melodic jod and a rhythmic jod. These start as small solos and over time the two slowly begin to converge SPRING 2012 PULSE 15
When Two Halves Make a Whole...Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger
before intertwining and becoming one. The piece is called Quest and is one of our favourite tracks on the album.” Ragas like Ahir Bhairav, Basant Mukhari and Kirwani were chosen for their broad accessibility and ability to capture flavours of everything from Rajasthani folk to flamenco. “They kept their sonic identity as ragas but also allowed for distorting and manipulating,” says Soumik. “Switching seamlessly like that between classical material and contemporary is exactly what we had aimed for.” Interestingly, though the music uses Western compositional elements like harmony and counterpoint, the duo didn’t notate any of it during composition. Perhaps this is why even the studio album feels alive and spontaneous, despite being made up of set pieces. Like the Shakti albums, the music manages to incorporate Western and Indian forms without losing or heavily compromising the appeal of either. Bernhard explains: “Technology such as loop pedals allows us to create harmony 16 PULSE SPRING 2012
within the Indian melodic framework. The way we interact as a duo is also based on a counterpointal approach. Melodies and rhythms counter-quote each other constantly and are treated as equals – that is the way of harmonic music-making.” Circle of Sound is clearly more than a concert, and reaches beyond the primary art forms that it features. It also aims to communicate a deeper message. For Soumik it’s clearly about overcoming obstacles in life – specifically those mental blocks that can weaken us so severely. This is expressed both in the show’s narrative asides and film sequences, though often obliquely. But Bernhard is less quick to define the show’s message. “The artist needs to have a strong idea, otherwise it’s all abstract. I am not a fan of concepts – alone they are not enough. A concept is a grid, but not the food. But everyone hears and sees something different, and we don’t want to define it for people.” This less than literal approach seems to simply define it as ‘contemporary music’, but he is also
Circle of Sound CD cover / sounds of bengal CD Cover / Borderland Poster
Circle of Sound
“…you don’t have to adjust the content, but you can adjust the dose…”
quick to underline that whether presenting a traditional format or otherwise, “as an artist it’s our responsibility to be humble. You can’t just say either you get it or you don’t get it. If you want to appeal to more people, you don’t have to adjust the content, but you can adjust the dose – just play less of something that may be more difficult to appreciate, like a complex 45-minute drum solo.” It seems that audiences get it – message or not. After the fantastic response from the Southbank’s Alchemy festival and the Songlines festival, the duo are looking to take Circle of Sound all over the world. They couldn’t have had much better luck. “It’s very unusual that a band comes together and immediately has so much support,” says Soumik, “we feel incredibly grateful for the older generation of musicians who are giving us so much goodwill.” Nitin Sawhney has supported the project, promoting it on his new BBC radio show and MCing their debut event. Talvin Singh played tabla on the studio album and live for some shows. The show and album will have their official launches in the UK at the end of April. “The album marks the first recording of hang drum, sarod and drum kit together. I’m not one to say first means good,” says Bernhard, “but in this case I think we have really created something very special.” They are already booked for arts festivals in Singapore, Austria and Slovenia, and the British Council is helping to organise events in other parts of Asia. They also plan to tour the US, focusing on
Sounds of Bengal
universities in an effort to connect with younger audiences. “You can expand your audience from 50–5,000 by simplifying your sound, but I think that if music connects to something bigger, automatically, everyone will want to hear it,” says Bernhard. It’s clearly equally meaningful to Soumik, who used to “feel so disappointed that it would just be older aunties and uncles at my classical shows. It’s not the music that drives young people away – I think it’s a static nature of presentation which can create a mental taboo. We’d even like to try schools and test whether what we think is really true. The kids might be like – get off stage!” Wherever they tour, they plan to work with local musicians, and even with dancers in the future. “The nature of the show is quite malleable,” says Soumik. “That’s exciting to me. When you work as a freelancer you learn on the job that venues want two words describing the genre – with a show like this, you could say it’s contemporary Indian music, but there’s a lot more to it. With different guests we could even bring it to dance festivals or other types of experimental events.” The future is bright too for their work elsewhere. Bernhard continues to tour with Akram Khan’s Gnosis and Anoushka Shankar’s Traveller tour. Soumik’s soundtrack for the British film Tooting Broadway – an intense melding of South Indian, hip-hop and rap that accompanies a story of contemporary London gang wars – is due for release this year. SPRING 2012 PULSE 17
Hari Sivanesan â€“ Young Musician
18 PULSE SPRING 2012
Hari Sivanesan talks to Jahnavi Harrison on his experience of being mentored by the legendary Carnatic singer Aruna Sairam, thanks to the BBC Radio’s World Routes programme.
photo: Courtesy the artist
ike several young Indian classical musicians his age, Hari Sivanesan is a homegrown British success story. From his parents starting him on the veena, “They wanted me to get a bit of culture because they felt homesick,” to playing with Ravi Shankar as a teenager on his Chants of India album, to being chosen to be mentored by arguably one of the most dynamic and versatile Indian musicians of our time, Hari has had an amazing journey so far. Like Aruna Sairam, he’s been a little different from the beginning. He was mostly uninterested in practising the set scales and compositions that he was assigned, but was forced to sit down for a set time each day nevertheless. Instead, he ‘messed around’, experimenting and exploring the sound landscape of the instrument. In lessons with his guru, London’s beloved Sivasakti Sivanesan, he would find that he had already discovered and grasped playing techniques that other students were just being introduced to. It made him a rapid learner, and gave him the tools with which to express, as BBC Radio 3 presenter Lucy Duran described, “his prodigious and soulful talent”. The opportunity to train with Sairam came just as Hari was settling into his job – the BBC hunted him down to interview for the chance. He won it, and shortly afterwards found himself flying to Chennai to meet Sairam for the first time. “I felt a little naked in front of her, she really just took me to pieces – in a nice way,” he adds, with a trademark giggle. “With Carnatic music there’s a lot of emphasis on this is how the song is, this is how your guru plays it, this is how the raga works, so this is how you play it. There’s a lot of boxes. It’s great that it’s preserved the tradition, however, sometimes it can take you away from remembering that you are your own person and that your expression of your music is your own. Arunaji, in a very unconventional way, took me and shook me so that all those preconceptions and rules fell apart. She deconstructed my music, and then she asked me what I thought about each element, without giving me her own answer. One day she asked what I wanted to play for the opening of the Proms. As usual there was a ten-second silence while I thought about the conventions – a varnam? A Ganesh krithi? She said, ‘Stop, stop, stop! What’s the first thing you think of? What do you want to play?’ The first thing I said, she replied, ‘that’s gut
instinct.’ She taught me something I had forgotten to do – to introspect.” For anyone familiar with the traditional mood of Indian arts training, this is somewhat of an unusual report. “Don’t get me wrong,” Hari clarifies, “there’s nothing like the diamond of the guru-shishya parampara, but to be exposed to a great musician in such a raw way is priceless.” It’s quite a rare opportunity for a Britishtrained musician to get, and one that clearly had a greenhouse-effect on a qualified sprout like Sivanesan. “My brain was going pop, pop, pop, pop with all these innovations and ideas...She told me that had I been her student, she would’ve given me what she did, drop by drop over weeks and months and years. She would’ve made sure that I’d understood, applied and absorbed every drop before giving the next.” It’s no surprise that the experience was an intense one. Hari had only two periods of training with Sairam, in between working. In the run-up to the Proms, one of his Facebook status updates read “I wish I could fit a mini veena in my bag – spending so much time on the Tube, if only I could use it to practise!” Though his performance at the Royal Albert Hall was short and digestible for unaccustomed ears, there was no slacking in absorbing all the lessons Sairam was passing on. “She never said ‘you haven’t done enough’, but there was an unspoken expectation – I felt I had to work harder. She would say ‘Have you worked?’, and that would be it.” Though Hari is now back to his day job marketing for a software company, driving all over the country for meetings and struggling to find time to practise, the experience has clearly left a deep, lingering impression. He gets quite impassioned as he describes one of the most beautiful, spiritual moments he shared with his mentor. “We were doing rehearsal at the Proms, and I did my little piece – with the acoustics and everything I thought it sounded quite nice. Then she began to sing her opening piece, a Viruttham. She sang just two notes – ga, ri. My whole body was instantly covered in goosebumps. Everyone in there said the same thing afterwards. It’s her spirituality. I was left thinking, in the ten minutes of my piece, was I able to do what she just did in two notes?” Hari Sivanesan will be performing at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on 19 May 2012 and at the Purcell Room, London on 27 May 2012, promoted by Milapfest.
Words by JAHNAVI HARRISON
SPRING 2012 PULSE 19
IN CONVERSATION WITH Malavika Sarukkai
Bharatanatyam diva Malavika Sarukkai shares her views on dance, art and life with Sanjeevini Dutta as they take a taxi-ride together in Chennai. Approaching her fourth decade as a performer, she says, “I am done with decorations; I want to convey the essence…”
alavika Sarukkai needs no introduction - for over three decades she has given audiences some of their most unforgettable dance experiences. Loved and respected in India as well as on the international dance circuit, she has achieved a well-deserved eminence. Sarukkai’s physical beauty, chaste technique, smouldering sensuality and spiritual steadfastness make her a stand-alone artist. I want to probe what makes Sarukkai’s performances linger in one’s memory long past the event. I saw the artist perform Kashi, based on the life of the ancient Hindu city, at a conference in Chicago in 2001, which London’s Alchemy Festival later hosted it in 2010. It was a profound experience: from the vivid imagery of the ritual worship to the abstract principles of the cycle of life, it captured the soul of the eternal city. On that day I saw a new kind of bharatanatyam - one that put aside the margam (literally the path) which dictates the order of dance items. Instead Sarukkai chose to dance the entire evening as one long item studded with abhinaya episodes recalling birth, marriage and death linked with sequences of freer movement that referenced the overall theme of the river of life. The jal-jal (water), chorus echoed as the dancer covered swathes of space with brushed footwork and the rippling movement of arms as articulate as Anna Pavlova’s in The Dying Swan). Kashi had all the trademark characteristics that make Malavika’s work so unique and personal: interplay between bharatanatyam technique and ‘creative’ movement, the careful orchestration, the ‘total’ experience of movement, light and sound. Above that the intensity of her performance carries the spectator like the torrent of a mountain stream. Fast-forward a decade to December 2011, and Sarukkai premièred Andaal at the Mad and Divine Conference. I asked her for an interview with Pulse but, in the midst of the Chennai December Season, the busiest time for performers, the best she can offer is to talk to me as we drive into the city to watch a performance. I share with the artist my recollections of Kashi, my favourite of Sarukkai’s creations. She is pleased and she tells me ”My work is mostly about seeking the spiritual”. We talk some moreof her latest creation Andaal based on the young saint poet of the Bhakti movement. Sarukkai confides, “It
20 PULSE SPRING 2012
Words by Sanjeevini Dutta
DANCE PERFORMANCES — REVIEWS
was very difficult to find a ‘way in’ to Andaal. She explains, “The sense of sringara bhakti is different in her poems. It shimmers beneath the stretched anguish of viraha, aching to be set free. So it was that I had to allow this feeling to permeate me, fill my senses…become me.” By chance Sarukkai visited the Tirupathi temple during her period of choreography. In the early morning darshan to the flickering of oil lamps she narrates, “I saw the handsome dark beauty of Lord Vishnu. I drank in the moment and recognised Andaals beloved”. Fired by this experience she re-visited the poetry of Andaal, and created Maname Brindavaname (In the Heart is the Enchanted Forest of Brindavan). There is no doubt, that Hindu philosophy is the bedrock of Sarukkai’s dance creations. Now entering her fourth decade as a performer, her tastes and interests have grown with time. She tells me that she no longer has any desire to delve into the sringara (amorous) rasa. “The words are so pedestrian - ‘don’t touch me with the same hands that have touched another woman’”. “I ask myself, is this emotion I want to explore when further horizons have opened up for me. I would rather create pieces on the environment, stories of lesser known voices using metaphor, poetry and natyadharmi (stylisation).” In Indian dance you cannot separate the form from its spiritual roots - after all it grew out of the ritual worship in temples. However in the real world, which is a competitive marketplace, to maintain one’s integrity is a rare achievement. In Sarukkai’s work, one finds a genuine and deeply felt spirituality. Performing Andaal the previous evening, she recalls loosing all sense of the specifics as she approached the ultimate section of the saint finding her Lord within herself. Strangely I think of Malavika in a similar way - as a dancing monk. The austerity of her practise and the single-pointedness of her endeavour is worthy of any sadhavi. Living with her mother, Saroja Kamakshi, her long-standing companion in the journey of dance in a quiet corner of Chennai, Malavika declares. ”My life has been my studio, my dance space, my sanctuary.” The command Malavika has on her technique has come from the foundation she received from training with legendary gurus: Kalyanasundaram Pillai, S.K. Rajaratnam , Smt. Kalanidhi and Kelucharan Mahapatra . Together with this she brought a keen body intelligence and internalisation of her art and it’s with this approach that she has made the dance her own. “It is not just practise, but ‘meditative practise’”, she muses. Sarukkai’s disciplined practise also curiously frees her from the constraints of her style. I tell her that when I see her dancing I think not of bharatanatyam but simply of ‘dance’. She nods “In the case of most dancers, their dance has not been ‘personalised’, made their own”. Much of the success of Sarrukai’s work has to do with the quality of thought that goes into making and shaping her dance items. She tells me how the process of creating a new piece is about layering. Each element, from the music to lighting, set and costume has to be visualised in its entirety. Sarukkai refers to the music, which plays a fundamental part in the creation, as being ‘sculpted’. Similarly the lighting plays to the strengths of the form; capturing a stationary position in a concentrated shaft, or the face being softly modelled by side lights. The detailed lighting design and the change of a small element of costume such as ‘the fan’ of the costume, serve to keep the audience’s interest. For four decades, Sarukkai has given great joy and pleasure to her audiences. Her relentless search into making dance meaningful has served her audiences well. There is no doubt that she will continue to think and dream dance that will be beautiful, wise and appropriate to our times. I thank the artist as we arrive at our destination - the Bhavan in Mylapore - to catch the next performance.
Dance Performances Rising 9 December 2011 Aakash Odedra Company DanceXchange in Birmingham Reviewed by Donald Hutera
t’s fascinating to observe even a bit of the grooming of a potential star. Trained in kathak as well as various other dance forms, Aakash Odedra is a talented and lucky young man to have acquired the support of so many people and organisations. Aptly entitled Rising, this programme of four shortish solos – a challenge even
Aakash Odedra | Photo: Chris Nash
photo: Courtesy the artist
for an established artist – can’t be faulted for ambition. The roster of stellar choreographers who agreed to make work for Odedra is in itself enough to guarantee instant interest. Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui certainly keep him on his toes in a bill which, despite the impressive variety, possibly adds up to a tad less than the sum of its parts. The evening commenced with Mohe Apne Hi Rang Mein, a decent slice of Sufi-drenched kathak created by Odedra for himself. That includes the musical arrangement, with a vocal (played at a blaring volume at the premiere) by Sami-Allah Khan based on a poem by Amir Khusro. Slightly swarthy and thin as a sapling in a long, flaring white robe over dark trousers, Odedra demonstrated that he’s a swift spinner with a nice line in humble spiritual ecstasy. From there he plunged down to earth as a feral figure in Khan’s In the Shadow of Man. The goal here, as Khan explains in a programme note, was to discover the animal lurking inside the dancer’s almost pathetically slender but wiry frame. It begins with the shirtless wild-boy crouching upstage, an amber light trained on his bare back. He emits a dry, throaty scream before proceeding to work his shoulder blades like de-feathered wings.
Convulsive yips ensued as Odedra, a ravenously unsettled creature, subsequently scuttled low through Michael Hulls’ shadowy lighting design. Set to music (by Jocelyn Pook) that married strings and voice to a throbbing tone, the piece ended – somewhat frustratingly, as it felt unfinished – with Odedra upright and gyrating in place. Maliphant’s CUT seemed a more complete if, perhaps, rigidly contained dance. Collaborating, per usual, with the masterly Hulls, the choreographer initially places Odedra behind a single thin, smoky (there’s a lot of dry ice in this show) beam of light. At times the dancer played with the shadows cast by his hands as if they were vaguely fiendish puppet strings. Soon there was a row of three beams downstage, in and out of which Odedra swiftly manoeuvred on his knees, and then, in a dimensional switch, a row of pulsating bars that stretched corridor-like upstage. All of this was cued to industrial electronic rhythms (by Andy Cowton) that, like the movement, built to a crescendo before subsiding into a contemplative fade-out. Cherkaoui’s Constellation is a wordless cosmic fable meant to cast Odedra as ‘an astral body generating its own rhythms and luminosity’. Varying in intensity, fifteen yellowish light bulbs (a design by Willy Cessa) swung like galactic lemons on their cables in the dark, smoky void of the stage. Odedra rapidly spun one in front of him – a striking distortion effect – only after it had sucked all the others of their energy. Eventually, to Olga Wojceichowska’s plaintive music, he sat cross-legged and centre stage with it and made prayerful gestures that re-ignited all the other lights. Production values throughout Rising are high but threaten to overshadow Odedra’s presence and skills. I’d like to think I’m of the mark, but to me it carried just a whiff of young emperor’s new clothes about it. Take away all the flash effects and you might well ask, Who is this guy and what can he do? Treated – with undeniable invention – like a tabula rasa by a trio of heavy-hitting dancemakers, it’s as if he’s being prematurely shaped into some kind of icon. In such a context his post-show remark about being ‘10% of this evening’ seems unwittingly revealing. SPRING 2012 PULSE 21
REVIEWS — DANCE PERFORMANCES
Towards Dawn 28 January 2012 Kalpana Raghuraman Korzo Theater, The Hague Reviewed by Marcelle Schots
vibration in an eyebrow is the first phase of a movement initiated by the head. This movement trickles through the entire body to pull the dancer, violently shaking, down to the floor. These first few minutes of Towards Dawn are already incredibly fascinating. Dancer Sayouba Sigué’s impressive control over his body allows him to be able to stir or shake any muscle within it. Feeling like you do not belong, you are unloved or unsafe, can all be reasons for you to indulge in the comforts of consumerism, addictions or a virtual life. Choreographer Kalpana
dreams also cause the body to be thrown around. The collaboration choreographer Raghuraman has sought out for this piece is very special. Details of bharatanatyam, such as eye and head movements, combine with modern dance and the earthy nature of African dance in which explosive energy sets the entire body in motion that gives Towards Dawn an extraordinary intensity. This review was first published at www.theaterkrant.nl
NowHere 23 February 2012 Divya Kasturi Dance Company The Hat Factory, Luton Reviewed by Katie Ryan
ince her last creation, Memory, appeared at The Place’s Resolution! 2011, Divya Kasturi has become one of the Arts Council England, East’s Escalator Dance
Kalpana Raghuraman & Korzo | Photo: Robert Benschop
Raghuraman sees this as escapist behaviour that modern man uses as a strategy for survival. In Towards Dawn she and her dancers avoid these strategies and face fear and pain head-on. Kalpana Raghuraman, artist in residence at Korzo production house since 2010, opens the New Talents programme at the Holland Dance Festival with Towards Dawn. Raghuraman has a background in bharatanatyam, but mixes this classical form with modern dance. For Towards Dawn she has worked with dancers including Adonis Nebié and Sayouba Sigué from Burkina Faso. Nebié and Sigué – very different in physique, energy and movement style – each follow their own path during the piece. Sometimes one tries to get closer to the other by pushing his head in the other one’s knee, or literally clinging to the other and being dragged around. Only a few times do Sigué and Nebié actually come together in a synchronous dynamic dancing duet. In Towards Dawn light prevails like it does at dawn, or it drops to the floor as if filtered through a leafy canopy. There is a place for relaxation, high in the air or on a large pillow, but intense 22 PULSE SPRING 2012
Divya Kasturi | Photo: Simon Richardson
Artists, completing her first tour of the Eastern region at the Hat Factory’s intimate studio theatre. The audience filed in past a busy set hung with three pom-pomtrimmed lampshades and five costumes behind perspex screens. Amidst this intriguing set of the first act duet, NowHere, dancerchoreographer Divya Kasturi stood mannequin-like behind one of the costumes. The sound of disjointed bols gave way to Kasturi’s recorded voice as she began to move more freely around the space. The piece charted her journey training in two distinct styles: kathak and bharatanatyam; and negotiating life in two distinct cultures: India and the UK. Kasturi’s hallmark sincerity prevented this danced autobiography from seeming selfindulgent. The voice-over added intimacy to the production with some charming insights, such as the way Kasturi still dreams in Tamil although she mainly speaks English. At times, however, the recorded voice felt too dominant and prescriptive, drawing attention
away from the choreography and not calling the audience’s imaginations into play. A highlight of this duet was the successful collaboration between Kasturi and fellow kathak dancer Urja Thakore, who initially appeared in the role of Guruma striking her woodblock as Kasturi recalled early memories, later returning to the stage as the embodiment of a dual identity. Both dancers adeptly interlaced kathak, bharatanatyam and contemporary movements as they shifted between states of struggle and serenity. Concluding the first act by donning coat and boots as if waking from a reverie to the reality of a British February climate, Kasturi cleverly framed her second act with this same simple action: re-entering a cleared space to the sound of babbled mantras and a backdrop projection showing the glowing architectural lines of a temple façade. The projected film used visually striking slow-motion footage of the dancer in classical costume punctuated by images of city life in Chennai and the UK. This created an effective contrast with Kasturi’s plain black shift dress. As the title NowHere suggested, the dancer seemed at one with her identity after the conflicts of the first act. Kasturi authentically embodied the ‘inbetween’: sometimes distinctly bharatanatyam or kathak, but more often something less clearcut. The constant shift between styles created an idiom from the act of transition itself; for example, moving from a bharatanatyam arm position to a kathak arm position to create a release of tension as the elbow drops below shoulder level. The combination of clear rhythmic work marked by feet, hands and spoken counts, stylised hand gestures interspersed with expressive grabbing actions, fluid travelling actions, and floor-work employing the geometric folding and unfolding of limbs, created a rich movement vocabulary. In contrast to the simplicity of Memory, NowHere is an ambitious production in which Kasturi has collaborated on a number of levels. Both acts were littered with beautiful visual and aural illustrations of the counterpoint created by two dance styles and two cultures. Although the work had engaging variety, the whole was not quite greater than the sum of its parts. Somehow the reiteration of the same idea by different means
lessened the overall impact of what was an undeniably sincere performance with moments of striking beauty.
Elixir 3 March 2012 Sadhana The Place Theatre, London Reviewed by Sanjeevini Dutta
adhana Dance opened their second production Elixir following its premiere in Eastleigh, at The Place Theatre, London, to a full house of mainly dance cognoscenti. The Company, formed by Subathra Subramanyam following the disbanding of Angika (a partnership with Mayuri Boonham, which had pioneered some of the best in British South Asian dance), established with Elixir that audiences are now enriched by the two independent companies that have emerged. Elixir draws upon the choreographer’s background in science and education and the journeys she has made as the Education Director of Cape Farewell, a project that enables scientists and artists to explore issues of climate change. Elixir addresses the preciousness of water to life, a theme which pervades the entire production. The jewel-like quality of Josh Baum’s installation sets the tone of the show. Miniature china teapots and vials drip and catch water; water crystalises into dew-
Sadhana | Photo: Mark Pepperall
drops and streams flow around and into all to a wonderful sound score (Kathy Hinde and Matthew Olden), preparing the audience for what follows. Downstage, four jars each on a stand, are lit in silver - enigmatic receptacles of a magic potion or like a life-giving drip to the patient. The show opens with the chanting of Sanskrit slokas by singer-dancer Divya Kasturi, as three figures clad in white Grecian tunics enter with bowls of water which they set down before beginning a ritual of washing and invoking the spirits. Each muse moves to her own
DANCE BOOK / DANCE PERFORMANCES — REVIEWS
rhythm, facing her own direction and yet there is harmony between this apparent individualism. Necks and torsos, wrists and fingers are articulated with a sensuousness and hypnotic beauty. The first scene dissolves into a joyful play amongst the raindrops as the floor becomes a beautiful black and white pattern of concentric circles. The projections, by visual artist Kathy Hinde, are perfectly judged and recall the foyer installation of drips and droplets on delicate surfaces. The technology does not dwarf the dancers as they execute sequences of jumps and turns stitched together with bharatanatyam sequences. The first sign that all is not well in the Garden of Eden occurs as the droplet circles are taken out one by one, ushering in the sand tones of the desert on the hitherto white floor. The light footed aerial movements give over to floor locomotion, as limbs and heads are painfully distorted. Feast and famine alternate with frightening intensity as drought gives over to floods, and torrents of water see the humans helpless as a cork in a swell; bodies tumble and flail in the turbulent waters that sweep all in their path. There are scenes of death and destruction as the limp body is borne on the shoulders and taken for burial. In times of scarcity, resources are contested and aggression leads to physical combat. In the final scene, the three bodies that are struggling to survive are gradually defeated, and one by one the lights go out. So much drama is packed into the sixty minutes that the audience is kept at the edge of their seats,yet there is a wonderful economy and understatement in Elixir. Although a polemical piece about the need to conserve water, Elixir has a poetic quality and its structure, the elegance of a haiku. The integration of movement with the projections, set and design has a harmony and felicity rarely achieved in multiple collaborations. Special mention must be made of the three dancers, Archana Ballal, Elena Jacinta and Veena Basavarajaiah, who share a base of bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. They have demonstrated what can be achieved by the skilful and imaginative manipulation of South Asian dance vocabulary when freed from the traditional repertoire. The language of gesture is taken to a new height: the simple mime of a jet of water from the tap,
which becomes a trickle and then a drop before ceasing entirely. The enriching of vocabulary by inclusion of contact, lifts and floor-work gives the dancers an armoury of movement material to draw from. One can truly say that British South Asian dance has gone beyond ‘fusion’ and exists as a ‘genre’ in its own right. Subi Subramanyam, with her dancers and collaborators, has made a piece of great beauty and passion - one which fulfils the company’s mission of creating ‘thoughtful work which entertains’. A post-show CafeScientifique led by presenter Quentin Cooper gave more scope for reflection and debate. It is fitting that on the day following the performance, the media announces that at least one of the Millennium goals has been fulfilled -that of providing 90% of the world with safe water.
Dance Book Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora September 2011 Ketu H. Katrak Palgrave Macmillan Reviewed by Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha
algrave Macmillan’s ‘Studies in International Performance’ series has published one of the most significant books to come out on Indian dance studies scholarship in recent years: Ketu H. Katrak’s Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora. A book such as this has been long overdue in terms of contribution to the field. Scholarly literature on contemporary dance in India and in the Indian diaspora has tended to be scant, despite the burgeoning interest in cuttingedge, radical and experimental dance work emerging from the global south within academia and the arts industry worldwide. To date, Sunil Kothari’s edited volume New Directions in Indian Dance, published in 2004 by Marg Publications, was the only serious predecessor to Katrak’s monograph. Yet, although Kothari’s book successfully managed to amass a range of different and significant voices
from the contemporary dance world in India, Katrak’s book goes one step further and locates Indian contemporary dance practice firmly within the framework of current theories on gender,
direction. Astad Deboo’s works are cogently discussed here, as is Shobana Jeyasingh’s corpus of work, and although at first glance the two choreographers could be seen to inhabit seemingly disparate worlds, Katrak does manage to weave together her analysis through her focus on the abstract in their choreographic work. Perhaps the most interesting segments of this book are in Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6, where Katrak offers a sweeping yet close enough view of both established and emerging artists from India and the global Indian diaspora. Palgrave Macmillan Whereas Chapter 3 is split along sexuality and ethnic identity. the lines of local and diasporic Katrak’s preface as well as her innovations in kathak (Nataraj, introduction clearly delineate key Mangaldas, Sheth), bharatanatyam definitions of contemporary Indian (Johar, Sarabhai, Pada), and dance, the central questions in this personal journeys of discovery or book, and the trajectories she has rediscovery (Chettur), Chapters taken in exploring those questions. 4, 5 and 6 largely focus on either In her preface, Katrak defines work in the diaspora or the contemporary Indian dance as transnational exchanges between those genres that both continue artists in India and the global and depart from inherited legacies North in the recent past that of art-making. Katrak also have led to a cross-fertilisation very importantly underscores of ideas in dance across national the difference between the and international borders. It is North American and the Indian in these sections that the undercontemporary dance scenes: examined and overlooked dance while the former consisted of experimentations of diaspora monolithic figures such as Graham artists come to light. Also, these and Cunningham, Katrak avers chapters seem to signal the growth that contemporary Indian dance is of a highly mobile generation predominantly polyvocal, in spite of artists in the twenty-first of the presence of such influential century who seem to have located figures as Chandralekha and Astad themselves artistically between Deboo. It is this polyvocal nature the interstices of multiple cultures. of work made in the realm of Katrak’s discussion of these artists experimental dance in both India as wide-ranging as Anita Ratnam, and the international South Asian Hari Krishnan and Akram Khan diaspora that Katrak then goes on underscores the importance of the to map through her six carefullymigration and exchange of ideas constructed chapters. that shape much of current, hybrid Katrak begins her journey, contemporary dance work today. surely enough, with a historical There are some rather re-telling and critique of the important omissions in this twentieth-century reconstruction book, such as the absence of any projects that excavated discussion of the work of the and transformed sadir to feminist choreographers Manjusri bharatanatyam, and reinstated Chaki Sircar and Ranjabati Sircar several other classical dances (who both were also part of the firmly within the consciousness 1984 East-West Dance Encounter of a colonised, fractured and that Katrak usefully highlights increasingly nationalistic India. as a watershed moment in the Chapter 1 therefore does a very history of contemporary dance in good job of reviewing already India). However, such oversights published literature in the field notwithstanding, Contemporary (such as that by Amrit Srinivasan, Indian Dance is an example of Avanthi Meduri, Janet O’Shea solid academic research done and Pallabi Chakravorty) and in the field, and as such, a most also highlights the contribution welcome addition to dance of Uday Shankar, Ram scholarship. Gopal, Narendra Sharma and Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha Chandralekha to the realm of is a lecturer in Theatre and Indian dance experimentations. It Performance at the University of is from Chapter 2, however, that Plymouth. the book begins to turn in a fresh SPRING 2012 PULSE 23
REVIEWS — CD REVIEW
CD Review Kindred Spirits December 2011 Zoe Rahman Manushi Records Reviewed by Ken Hunt
rranger-composerpianist Zoe Rahman’s last few musical forays into her roots have proved wholly fascinating, most evident in the melodicism served up on her and her brother Idris’s Where Rivers Meet (2008). What began so intriguingly with her pianistic take on Hemant Mukherjee’s ‘Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli’ (‘Days That Have Passed’/‘Days Gone By’) has continued to grow and go to new places. Her instrumental take on the Bengali film composer’s song from the 1958 film Lukochuri (‘Hide-andSeek’) first surfaced on Melting Pot (2005). Later, fully absorbed into her concert repertoire, it reappeared on the Zoe Rahman Trio’s Live (2007), recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London in April 2007. Live was pivotal, for in addition to Gene Calderazzo on
kit drums and Oli Hayhurst on double-bass, her clarinettist brother made a guest appearance on ‘Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli’ itself. Live had been recorded almost a month to the day before the Where Rivers Meet sessions. The leap forward was eyeopening, giving new context to their Bengali bloodline
Zoe Rahman | Photo: llze Kitshoff
inspirations. Where Rivers Meet consolidated what had gone before and advanced their game. Rather than blather on, just take my word that it is one of the defining Indo-jazz works of this century thus far. And, yes, while the repertoire was thoroughly Bengali, they viewed and executed everything through a jazz prism. The thespian expression ‘journey’ has increasingly leaked
out of Theatreland into the world of print. With Kindred Spirits (2012), theirs is not so much a thesp journey at which we get a grandstand view, as a series of voyages of discovery made in public. Kindred Spirits is a series of hand-on-heart incursions into terra vaguely incognita. It picks up where Where Rivers Meet left off. Zoe Rahman writes that she, Calderazzo, Hayhurst and her brother “recorded this album after touring Ireland in 2011, a year that happened to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary of Bengali writer, musician, artist and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore”. Two of the pieces in particular reflect this anniversary (as did the ‘Flying Man: Poems for the 21st Century’ evening at the British Library in May 2011). The first is a pairing of Tagore’s haunting ‘Forbiddance’/‘Mana Na Manili’ and the grand, sweeping ‘My Heart Dances, Like A Peacock, It Dances’/‘Hridoy Amar Nache Re’ – at almost eight-and-ahalf minutes the longest track. The second of the Tagore tracks is ‘Imagination’/‘Hriday Amar Prokash Holo’ at just over
three minutes. Exploring their Yorkshire-born mother’s Irish roots, ‘Butlers of Glen Avenue’ laces on a different set of dance shoes, with Idris Rahman’s transposing Uilleann pipe jig figures to clarinet to create an effect that is less Séamus Ennis or Willie Clancy than postChieftains; in addition to piano, here his sister adds harmonium voicings to the Anglo-BengaliIrish palette. Elsewhere, possible congruences entertain. ‘Conversation with Nellie’ – on which Courtney Pine plays keyed flute – has something of a vibe of the jazz-rock behemoth, Mahavishnu Orchestra, led by John McLaughlin (pre-Shakti and Remember Shakti), during the early days of its first incarnation, further reinforced by Calderazzo’s percussive outbursts. ‘Rise Above’ has chordal passages, pianistic melodic full-throatedness and rhythm section undertows enhanced by its melodic uplift which at points make it sound like the bastard child of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Wharf Rat’. Kindred Spirits will feed your head.
SHANKAR MAHADEVAN & PURBAYAN CHATTERJEE
Saturday 21 April, Royal Festival Hall The renowned singer joins forces with one of India’s best-loved sitar players
THE RAGHU DIXIT PROJECT WITH MEMBERS OF BELLOWHEAD Choreography by Gauri Sharma Tripathi
Wednesday 18 & Thursday 19 April, Queen Elizabeth Hall Dance, song and new music in a unique show
12 – 22 A pril 201 2
DR L SUBRAMANIAM, KAVITA KRISHNAMOORTHY & AMBI SUBRAMANIAM
Thursday 12 April, Queen Elizabeth Hall Music from an acclaimed family of musicians
SACHAL JAZZ ENSEMBLE
Tuesday 17 April, Queen Elizabeth Hall YouTube sensation performs in the West for the ﬁrst time Plus Pete Lockett Rajasthan Collaboration, Soumik Datta, Susheela Raman, Pakistani Folk Dance Workshop, Bollywood workshops, exhibitions, film screenings, fashion shows & children’s theatre tickets £10 or less available for every show
Tickets 0844 847 9910 Southbankcentre.co.uk/alchemy
SYNCHRONISED Kathak & contemporary dance meet synchronised swimming as part of the Cultural Olympiad
www.balbirsinghdance.co.uk Photography: Simon Wright, GB Swimstars.com GB Synchronised Team Katie Dawkins BSDC Dancer Ezekiel Oliveira
imove is primarily funded by Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity set up to create a cultural and sporting legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. imove is also funded by Arts Council England. The London 2012 Inspire mark copyright ÂŠ London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Ltd 2008. All rights reserved.
Unlocking Process, Liberating Creativity Saturday 28th April 2012, 10.30am to 8.30pm The Hat Factory, Luton.
Kadam present’s Unlocking Creativity 5, a one day Choreography Course for South Asian dancers of all genres, facilitated by Kali Chandrasegaram (Akademi and ACE Choreography bursary award holder 2009) and Kalpana Raghuraman (resident artist at Korzo Theatre, The Hague since 2010). Saxophonist Jesse Bannister provides musical accompaniment. UC has been described as a ‘hothouse of creativity’. Meet and collaborate with your peers, share your choreographic dreams in a safe and supportive place, unleash your potential. £60 including lunch and dinner. Early bird £50 extended to 6th April. Send cheque to Kadam at The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY or book online at www.pulseconnects.com.
Unlocking Creativity5 Kadam and Hat Factory present
UnlockingCreativityShorts Thursday 26th April 2012, 7.30 pm
Kadam announces a new platform for cutting-edge work created by past participants of the UC programme with guest artist Anusha Subramanyam. The creations emerging from the South Asian dance collective are fresh, cheeky, provocative and entertaining. Featuring work by Veena Bhasavarajaiah, Kali Chandrasegaram and Devika Rao and danced by the choreographers plus Katie Ryan, UC Shorts will rock the house with energy and bristling creativity. Tickets www.thehatfactory.org
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South Asian dance and music magazine, published quarterly by Kadam