Review: Gauri Sharma Tripathi & Mavin Khoo in Part of Alchemy at Southbank Centre

Performance: 8 April 2010
Reviewed by Katie Fish - Friday 9 April 2010

Gauri Sharma Tripathi

The second evening of Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival hosted works in progress by two internationally renowned classical Indian dance practitioners. The first was Gauri Sharma Tripathi’s Kireet (meaning ‘The Crown’), a work in progress which will premier in Southbank’s autumn season. This was followed by an extract from Mavin Khoo’s Dancing the Shiva Within, a UK debut that is due to be shown in full in Malaysia this summer.

Even before the opening phrase of Kireet it was clear that Tripathi had reached a state of mental, physical and spiritual wholeness. Kneeling with her back to the audience, she sat with the same composure and self-possession that would mark her every gesture. On either side of her sat the six musicians and vocalists; watching and preparing for the cue that would open the continual dialogue shared by each performer.

With her swirling skirts and fleeting footwork, it is Tripathi that demands our attention although the dynamic percussion and strings permeate and drive her rhythmic body. Her feet, head and hands work in tandem but each seems to have a life of its own, stamping, shifting and snaking through the space.

Her compelling range of facial expressions (abhinaya) portrays her longing for Krishna and as she enacts an imagined dialogue with her god, a reader tells us that the dancer’s eyes are hungry for a glimpse of the beloved deity. So lyrical are Tripathi’s mimes that their meaning is clear whether you understand the content of the thumri songs or not.

A later section sees Tripathi turning rapidly on her knees, encircling the space with the force of a tornado; a symbolic outpouring of her devotion. The musicians and vocalists reflect this with a crescendo of tempo and pitch as if united in a heightened state of worship.

Opening with the lines ‘I am intoxicated with love … consumed by passion’, it was evident that Khoo’s solo would also similarly portray the performer’s deep spiritual yearnings. Like Tripathi, Khoo is well-skilled in abhinaya expression, depicting contrasting emotions from almost seductive desire to pained despair. Similarly his movements sometimes seem full of joy and contentment, such as his impish jumps and open, circular arm patterns, whilst elsewhere they convey a desperate aching, as when his torso twists slowly around with his feet remaining fixed upon the spot.

I couldn’t help but wonder at the strength and dexterity of his feet as they stamped and struck the ground; steps are often executed on the heels and toes balance the weight of the whole body as it sinks into a wide, plié position. His finger joints also seem hyper-mobile and alive as they flex and extend autonomously.

Most impressive were the moments of allegro when Khoo enveloped the stage with almost feverish passion; arms slicing and feet on fire as if his whole body were restless with his pulsating love. In contrast Khoo is at times seemingly overwhelmed by a prophetic stillness in which every muscle is alert to Shiva’s presence; a lifelong intoxication that can never be quenched.

In the post-show Q&A, the artists agreed that classicalism allowed for contemporary interpretation, giving voice to the personal and resonating beyond cultural boundaries. Let’s hope platforms such as Alchemy continue to encourage such voices to speak out.

Q&A with Gauri Sharma Tripathi

*Alchemy explores the culture of India, its diaspora and its relationship to the UK today in over 30 events spanning dance, music, literature, debates, fashion and food at Southbank Centre, from 7 April – 11 May 2010. *
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