Review: Out of India: Modern Moves - Dance Umbrella at Barbican Pit

Performance: 21 - 24 October 2015
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Thursday 22 October 2015

Hemabharathy Palani - 'Trikonanga'. Photo: Arvind Sridhar

It’s very refreshing to see three new Indian choreographers in Dance Umbrella’s Out of India, representing a budding, contemporary dance scene from a country that is so rooted in traditional dance styles.

What all the young choreographers share in this programme is a language that is flavoured with Bharatanatyam and other traditional Indian dance genres, but built on modern and popular cultural dance practices such as physical theatre, ballet, contemporary and hip hop.

It’s a male-dominated evening with the exception Of Hemabharathy Palani whose solo Trikonanga explores different emotional states (navarasa). Palani passes through the contrasting expressive manifestations of those emotions. In a lotus coloured sarong with her hair dressed in an impressive cone, she slowly unfolds in a spotlight with fingers fanning out, articulate and responsive; she embodies the classic image of an Indian Temple Goddess, awakening her body through subtle shifts and extensions. But not for long.

Suddenly she leaps out of the intense light and throws herself into a sequence of athletic floor work. Her dynamic passage through the emotional and physical states are exhilarating – she covers space in cart wheels and fluid gymnastics – exuding tough, modern female power.

In the following moments she withdraws into a quiet inward looking trance. Laid out like a corpse she embodies the interface between life and death. Another troubling yet intriguing image is her dribbling saliva from her mouth, and smearing it over her body. She later imbibes water from a bottle and then spits it out like a furious gargoyle in a complex oral-cleansing ritual. A riveting performer, she engages us with her committed possession of both spiritual and human qualities.

Two men casually dressed as young professionals, hands stuck in pockets, stride on stage and size us up. Charan CS and Amaresha Kempanna confront us with audacity and assertion, establishing who is in control. They are the new generation.

There’s a tension between them throughout Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy’s duet that is relentless. Body popping ripples undulate through the torso in a recurring theme along with the tough-love dynamic of their relationship, testing the limits of trust, respect, mutual understanding. The men search for some common ground, through a varied palette of movement styles. Exciting to watch, there’s risk-taking lifts and balances, fast spins down to the floor and aggressively punishing contact. There’s even some Irish step dancing executed with rigorous verticality.

But NH7 reaches further afield than an investigation of masculinity. The dancers embody three personifications of capitalism – the boss, the exploited manual labourer and the ridiculed farmer or conservationist. It’s an effective metaphor for modern day India, the conflict that urbanisation causes and how that confuses and displaces large segments of society. Shivaswamy captures the richness of diverse cultural influences and traditions, and juxtaposes the wealth and modernization of India with its devastating poverty and inequality.

Surjit Nongmeikapam’s About Nerves, investigates the theme of violence and political instability using five male performers – both trained and untrained. The opening film footage of fighting and protests in troubled Manipur sets the restless tone of the piece which is then extended through live physical wrestling bouts and other aggressive group interactions. While there is humour through the grunts and groans, (at one point they resemble slighter variations of Sumo wrestlers), there’s an underlying theme of pain and cruelty.

At one point, the men have to avoid swinging shoes suspended from the lighting rig; in another a victim is flipped over by a stick as if he is a lump of meat. The final scene shows the performers hopelessly entangled in a huge web of red thread, suggesting the often life threatening challenges these men face in their rapidly changing country. It’s a little off the mark, but the intentions behind the piece are strong and creative.

Continues at Barbican Pit until Saturday 24 October
More info & booking

Dance Umbrella continues at venues across London until 31 October

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

Photo: Hemabharathy Palani by Arvind Sridhar

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