Hetain Patel: Be Like Water

Posted: February 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hetain Patel: Be Like Water, Rich Mix, February 2

Hetain Patel in Be Like Water

As with the popular evolution of wine, dance has gone from its traditional forms through international styles to ethnic cross-fertilization. Hetain Patel’s Be Like Water is such a delight that it reminds me of a recent comment by a wine writer who said that thirty years ago the idea of the best-tasting burgundy coming from Hungary would have been unthinkable. Be Like Water’s humour and intelligence, conceived as a Bruce Lee-inspired autobiographical fragment by a Bolton-bred first generation Indian video artist and a Taiwanese dancer, make it one of the most refreshing works I have seen in a long time.

Patel is a visual artist whose video installation To Dance Like Your Dad was included at Dance Umbrella last year. Parts of that installation find their way into Be Like Water, which was originally conceived as a video work but passed through several transformations before emerging as a dance theatre work with a multitude of elements and a deceptively simple path. All credit to Patel and Yuyu Rau for the text, and to Eva Martinez and Michael Pinchbeck for the dramaturgy, seamlessly weaving together a video tour of father Patel’s coach building factory with the son’s superimposed guide to his stage set, Bruce Lee with the erhu, China with Bolton and Kung Fu moves with Rau’s spirited solo of childlike enthusiasm that closes the performance.

As varied and beautiful as the individual elements of Be Like Water are, what ultimately holds it all together is the theme, which is contained in the title. In his To Dance Like Your Dad, Patel is clearly in awe of his father, and in Be Like Water he conjures out of the air the words Every now and then in my life I have tried to be like my father. Trying to be someone else has its hazards: as a student Patel adopts a fake Indian accent and grows his hair and moustache like his father which allow him to get a discount in Indian stores but he finds the moustache is so out of proportion to his own face that it makes him forget who or what he is trying to be. In imitating Bruce Lee he ends up in a police station for disorderly behaviour delivering a kick to a dustbin in the street (an action picked up ironically on CCTV). On a residency in China he learns a paragraph of Chinese from a Chinese woman, but discovers that he has picked up his teacher’s inflections (Patel has a particularly acute sense of mimicry) that make him sound to the Chinese like a woman. Throughout the work, Patel uses his self-awareness and humour to reveal these inconsistencies of expression through anecdote and well-conceived video work (with the aid of digital artist, Barret Hodgson).

At the beginning he speaks in Chinese — to avoid any assumptions, he says, about his northern accent — and Rau translates into English. He then admits what we have begun to suspect, that he only knows one short paragraph of Chinese that he repeats on all subsequent occasions with varying emphasis while Rau dissembles by delivering a consistent English text. Patel thus wraps himself up in disguises that fool nobody but himself. On the other hand, one senses his father, an Indian immigrant who speaks with a broad Bolton accent, has no need of disguise and is very much himself. Rau reminds us that Bruce Lee found in Kung Fu the only way he could most honestly express himself and Rau herself learned classical ballet as a child in Taiwan but only when she started studying contemporary dance in London did she find her true expression (which makes her final solo dance to erhu accompaniment so poignant). Patel’s moment of realization seems to come as he sits listening to Ling Peng ‘translate’ his Chinese into notes on the erhu. As Ling Peng plays (beautifully), a live projection of her hands on the bow arching across the strings expresses the oneness that exists between musician and instrument. It is as if Patel himself finds his voice in soaking up the influences of his collaborators, in assimilating his own experiences and in reaching his conclusions; he becomes one with his work. Be Like Water has the wisdom of a modern fable, expressed imaginatively and generously, speaking to us all.