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Alchemy dance: from darkness to liberation in Aditi Mangaldas

Alchemy dance: from darkness to liberation in Aditi Mangaldas

May 27 2014

Chitra Mogul reviews one of the dance performances at Alchemy, the festival of many things South Asian, which finished yesterday…

FROM the horrific Nirbhaya case to social, political and inner turmoil, the Kathak performance “Within” held up a mirror to reflect on where all our problems originate.

It mused on whether the times compel us to look ‘within’.

The Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – The Drishtikon Dance Foundation, performed the two-part Kathak dance drama at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre on Thursday last week (May 22), as part of the Alchemy Festival.

Explaining where her inspiration came from, choreographer and dancer Aditi Mangaldas said: “To explore our innermost spaces where humanity and brutality, masculinity and femininity, good and bad seem to lie in half-embrace, waiting to be disentangled.”

The first half of the performance, “Knotted“, was a contemporary dance based on Kathak. The second half, “Unwrapped, was Kathak with live music. The transformation from the dark torment of the soul to the liberating light of self-realisation was achieved dramatically through innovative choreography performed with great skill, grace and energy. The ensemble of seven dancers put on an arresting performance.

The stage was transformed into a subterranean theatre of turmoil, with dramatic lighting and a backdrop of a Siddha sculpture.

Against this, the dancers whirled and writhed in a tortured enactment of the mythological stories of Brahma’s desire for his daughter and the Shiva-Shakti relationship. According to Mangaldas, she revisited mythological stories in the context of the social turmoil of our times.

“The constant onslaught of violence, the religious, social and political struggles that surround us need to be questioned. Eventually these have become the subterranean stream that feeds the work, leaving ‘Within’ both ‘knotted’ up in our emotions, and ‘unwrapped’ of them.”

The music set the sombre and dark mood with a discordant, sonorous, repetitive track. The strident sound, creating an overreaching arch of hopelessness and anguish, was composed by Ish Shehrawat and Sound Beats. The recording comprised tabla, pakhawaj and cello.

In “Unwrapped” we see the changes unfold, as self-reflection leads to enlightenment. The dancer, completely concealed from head to toe in swathes of cloth, slowly unwraps them to reveal her true self.

The stripped back stage was used to showcase the swirling and increasingly joyful movements of the dancers as they undergo their transformation into creatures of light. The beautiful costumes were an element that added to the relief, at the departure from the doom and gloom of “Knotted” and its deliberate colourlessness.

Live music, composed by Mahesh Vinayakam, except for one composition by Pandit Kumar Gandharva, was uplifting and worth watching for itself. The musicians were: Faraz Ahmad on vocals and harmonium; Mohit Gangani on tabla; Ashish Gangani on pakhawaj; and Amir Khan on sarangi.

Mangaldas said she had been inspired by the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti: “To understand yourself you must create a mirror that reflects accurately who you are. Only in the understanding of what is, is there freedom from what is.”

If I had to choose what I enjoyed most about “Within“, I would select the joyful second half of the performance, “Unwrapped“. And yet, would I have liked it as much, if I hadn’t had to sit through the darkness first?

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture