The Rose and the Bulbul

Posted: September 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Rose and the Bulbul

The Rose and the Bulbul, Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park, July 30,

The cast of The Rose and the Bulbul (photo: Simon Richardson)

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” – Jo Cox, MP

At school I had a little notebook of historical dates in which each page was dedicated to a king or queen of England, starting with William the Conqueror. Most, if not all the events duly transcribed were battles; the more modern the monarch, the further afield the battles. This dry tally of dates and facts told from a singular imperial perspective constituted my early knowledge of history. The idea of weaving comparative history through dance, music and spoken word was inconceivable, let alone the notion of studying history in an environment of landscape gardening. Yet this is exactly what Sanjeevini Dutta and Kali Chandrasegaram dreamed up, along with writer Kamal Kaan, director Sita Thomas and producer Kadam, for The Rose and the Bulbul. It is at once a celebration of gardens, a moral tale about love and acceptance, a history of two cultures and an exuberant, fête-like procession of flowing silks, finely delineated steps and musical rhythms that bring the paths, trees and water features of Waterlow Park alive to a new reality.

The seed of the idea came from the gardens in Stockwood Park near Luton where many styles — from mediaeval to Elizabethan to Victorian — are laid out. Stockwood Park also has an Asian garden planned along the landscape principles — scaled down significantly — of India’s Mughal empire, which ran parallel to our own Tudor period and continued into the Victorian era. The creative team behind The Rose and the Bulbul has drawn together these two parallel influences by mingling Tudor music, Indian chanting and song, bharatanatyam, kathak and contemporary dance, and what Kaan has done in the scripting is to weave the history of these gardens into a modern allegory of social integration.

The history is implicit in the architectural parallels and in the cross-fertilization of literature, dance and music. The Earl of Lauderdale inherited the house around the same time the Taj Mahal, the apotheosis of Mughal architecture and landscape gardening, was being completed in Agra; the Persian word for a walled garden (a feature of Mughal gardens) came into the English language as ‘paradise’; the nightingale (bulbul) and the rose can be found in Sufi poetry as an expression of longing and creativity, and classical and contemporary dance has always embodied current attitudes to social and political discourse.

We can join in the pleasure of seeing the gardens around Lauderdale House at each stage of this promenade performance against the darkening skies and rising breezes of an English summer’s day. At the same time the story’s axiomatic philosophy (much of it based on the Sufi poet Rumi) is released like a scent by the musicians, actors and dancers as they enact one of the many tableaux before setting off on a path to the next one, adults, children and baby carriages in tow. The Rose and the Bulbul is thus a fable of cultural synergies experienced live through poetry, music and dance, but it is also a visual allegory told in colour and form projected against the history of house and garden. In a story of ‘love and acceptance of the outsider’ between two people ‘who come truly to understand their present only through a journey into each other’s past’, the intermingling of cultural expressions is an intoxicating immersion into the value of social and political unity.


This review was commissioned by and first appeared in Pulse Magazine and appears with the kind permission of the editor.