Review: Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) in Misrana at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Soutbank Centre

Performance: 22 Feb 09
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Monday 23 February 2009

Ten years ago syllabi were finalised for the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) graded examinations in South Asian Dance. With two particular styles codified, Kathak and Bharatanatyam, joined the ISTDs extensive catalogue of genres that people can study. Ten years on the newest faculty of the ISTD brought Misrana to the stage, showcasing the students of the South Asian Faculty’s achievements.

The long programme covered student work from all ISTD Kathak and Bharatanatyam grades, along with professional companies working in South Asian genres. Akademi, Srishti and Nina Rajarani Dance Creations all brought work to the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, showing recent developments and choreographic explorations in the art forms.

The highlight of the evening was Rajarani’s Quick, a revival of the 2006 Place Prize winning choreography. Although a few years old this work has not yet been challenged, its innovative use of traditional movement still shines through. But it was the more traditional style work from dance schools across the country which opened the evening showcasing their talents.

You couldn’t escape the ‘school show’ feel of the first half, with a few performers looking a little unsure on the large stage. Some talents of the future did grab your attention with their ability to capture the story telling elements of the genres. With long sections of mudras (hand gestures) this was needed – especially if you were a little rusty on the meaning behind the movements.

The Kathak dancers of all ages mastered quick precise footwork, keeping their ghunghru (bells) in unison. Although Kathak is traditionally performed by soloists, group pieces allowed for rhythmical and floor patterns to fill the stage – the best example being Padmashri Kumudini Lakhia’s Ekatra.

The Bharatanatyam pieces were more dramatic on the whole, using deep pile’s and strong footwork to add changes of level and dynamic to the dances. It was nice to see how the traditional style choreography has evolved into contemporary works such as Quick.

Gauri Sharma Tripahti’s tarana stood out in the second half, with the visual and acoustic elements of Kathak marrying together well. With Tripahti an artist in residence at the Southbank, the young performers got to see how far they could go with their art form.

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