Review: ATMA/Mayuri Boonham - Erhebung - Rich Mix

Performance: 31 May - 2 June 2013
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Wednesday 5 June 2013

ATMA Dance: 'Erhebung' Sculpture: Jeff Lowe. Dancers: Hian Ruth Voon & Shreya Kumar. Photo: Chris Nash

Performance reviewed: 2 June

“Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future,/ And time future contained in time past.”
It’s easy to see why a choreographer steeped in the cyclical unfolding of the great Sanskrit epics – or even somebody who has spent a reasonable amount of time in a subcontinental railway booking office – might be drawn to T.S Eliot’s late meditation in verse, Four Quartets. Themes of time, memory and the transcendence of art run through Eliot’s work, and inspire an unusual collaboration between sculptor Jeff Lowe, sound artist Bill Fontana and choreographer Mayuri Boonham.

Since forming her company ATMA in 2010, Boonham has created contemplative contemporary-classical works reflecting abstract themes. Where traditional classical dance draws explicitly on character and religious narrative, and other modern Indian choreographers opt for party-starting fusions of classical and urban dance, Boonham ploughs her own furrow of sculptural, strongly visual dance with an unusual, pensive quality. Erhebung (‘elevation’, a name taken from a line of the Four Quartets) is an unusual dance installation constructed around a room-high sculpture that looks something like a large silver climbing-frame. Portions of the sculpture step up in sharp right-angles; portions curl back down in squiggly rungs.

Boonham’s choreography cleverly echoes the sculpture; dancer Shreya Kumar starts on the floor by the blocky steps, and Hian Ruth Voon swings herself into an elevated position on the curly side. Kumar’s angular poses resonate with the square faces of her half of the sculpture; Voon rolls and coils among the twisted rungs of hers. Unhurried, almost glacial transitions from one statuesque position to another are broken up by sudden flurries of footwork or flutters of a hand that ease back into near-stillness in a cyclical flow.

For some minutes, the two work without reference to one another, the dancers duetting with the artwork itself rather than one another. Gradually, the two move toward one another, falling into unison for a few moments in passing. As Voon arrives on the stepped side of the sculpture, here movements become more angular; as Kumar arrives on the squiggles she winds on the bars in fluid coils. There’s a sense of something eternally present in the cycle of movement, heightened by Fontana’s looping soundscape of waves, dripping water and whipping wind.

Towards the end of the forty-minute performance, the cycle breaks, bringing Kumar and Voon finally into contact. Although this was the relationship that had been strategically absent for the whole performance, bringing the two dancers together was oddly unsatisfying. I wished Boonham could have boldly resisted the urge to fill in the gap, and instead let us arrive where we started. Even given that one niggle, Erhebung is a quietly bold work: introspective and poetic, it makes its own rather unique mark on the landscape of modern Indian dance. Eliot would have surely approved.

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to, londonist & Arts Professional

Photos: Chris Nash

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