Kamala Devam Company: Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Posted: December 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Kamala Devam Company: Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Kamala Devam Company, Ankusha and Other Mysteries, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, December 1

Franco Conquista, Kamala Devam and Tamzen Moulding in Ankusha (photo: Vipul Sangoi)

Kamala Devam has a lot going for her and she is making the most of it. Ankusha and Other Mysteries, presented at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, is an ambitious program of five works, four of which she has choreographed on herself or on her company, and the fifth is the 2013 film, The Art of Defining Me, which confounds the political box-ticking of cultural assimilation in which she is inevitably caught up. As she quips in the film, she’s the ‘white pinup girl for Indian dance in England’. As a child of California Hippies she began learning bharatanatyam at the age of five and has reached a level where she can command the stage in a classical solo. She also studied western contemporary dance so inevitably her style blurs the edges of both techniques; this is what makes her fascinating to watch. The energy and motivation of a contemporary arm movement will suddenly make an appearance in the course of a bharatanatyam solo, and in contemporary work her clarity of gesture derives from her classical training. 

The opening work of Ankusha and Other Mysteriesis a case in point. Less of Meis a solo Devam created in 2014 in which she ‘reflects on the space she has inside her’ following surgery to remove a cyst. Sitting on the floor facing away from us, she seems to tell the story through her expressive back while using text to provide her thought processes. It’s a gem of a work that explores her disbelief in losing an internal growth only to find the body is still miraculously fully functional without it. It is reminiscent of Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal; both works are concerned with deepening the psychological and somatic understanding of the body as an expressive medium while using the body as the means of investigation. 

Seeing the short film, The Art Of Defining Me, directed by Devam and Seeta Patel, in the interval between Less of Meand Devam’s bharatanatyam solo, Jati-Swara-Leela, is to watch the very fluid question of identity first in satirical theory and then in practice. It says a lot about the pioneering work of Patel and Devam that five years after the film’s launch its influence can be felt in the programing of such works as Patel’s Not Today’s Yesterdayand Devam’s Ankusha and Other Mysteries.

In the great Indian tradition of the intimate, often improvised connection between dancer and accompaniment, Jati-Swara-Leelais graced with three accomplished musicians on stage playing a composition by Prathap Ramachandra: Danny Keane on cello, the versatile Pirashanna Thevarajah on percussion and Swati Seshadri as nattuvana. Choreographing on herself and costumed by Martina Trottman, Devam naturally inhabits the traditional style and at the same time suffuses it with contemporary sensibility; for all her refinement of bharatanatyam gesture and pose, she employs a spatial awareness and attack that redefines the form in her own image. 

The title of the next work, Babushka vs. Renaissance Man, points to another amalgam of cultural identity but despite the geographical allusions Devam describes it as ‘a choreographic investigation into the meeting points between the movement cultures of popping and kalaripayattu, a South Indian martial art’. The solo, set on popper Kamila Lewandowska, extends Devam’s choreographic evolution by negotiating a dialogue between two separate dance forms on a body that is not her own but it’s a more artificial composite than Jati-Swari-Leela where her intrinsic ability to channel two forms is entirely organic. It also raises the question of what you do once the two dance forms have met; Devam has made the introduction and Lewandowska’s body engages in the conversation but the choreographic form of Babushka vs. Renaissance Man remains too self-consciously contained to fully develop the relationship. 

The final work, Ankusha, moves in another direction in which Devam develops the action through three performers: herself, Tamzen Moulding and Franco Conquista. An ankusha is an elephant goad but Devam suggests it’s symbolic connotation as the Hindu god Lord Ganesha directing souls toward their destiny and keeping them on track. Ankusha keeps the vast theme of fate intimate in the way the paths of the three performers wrap tightly around and over each other, but while the philosophical idea is clear the acrobatic authority of Moulding and Conquista, who are both circus performers, too easily governs the narrative elements. Nevertheless Devam is clearly taking the lessons of Ankusha to push — and pull — the boundaries of her work in a direction that arises from her own unique identity. 


Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

Posted: August 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

Akademi, Staycation/Vacation, Rich Mix, July 15

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

 This article was first published on Kadam’s website and appears here with kind permission. 

It is an evening of two separate performances and many contrasts: between student and professional dancers, classical Indian dance and contemporary dance, narrative and abstract forms, and context and style.

Staycation is a performance devised by Akademi for two schools in the Tower Hamlets area. Choreographed by Kamala Devam and Honey Kalaria for George Greens School and by Elena Catalano (assisted by Maryam Shakiba) for Langdon Park School, it is a project in which the performance reveals the value of the steps taken to achieve it. These are the kinds of projects that can change a life, and as such are vital to the development of the arts and education. One of the girls reveals a natural grasp of performing, while one of the boys is clearly thrilled at the opportunity to pursue his sense of self.

On the professional side the contrasts constantly illumine the transformation of classical Indian dance within contemporary society. Kesha Raithatha presents the traditional form of Indian dance in a narrative work, Lalita Lavang, in kathak style with the delight and precision of her gesture, posture, rhythm and her storytelling eyes. Yet in the final work of the evening, Traces, Raithatha sets aside tradition to reveal a quite different dramatic presence, one that evolves out of a contemporary existential philosophy that demands its own expression. Traces is the result of a 2015 Choreogata commission from Akademi which allowed Raithatha to choose a choreographic mentor (Eva Recacha). Launching bravely into unfamiliar territory with no narrative and an aural environment of powerful prayer chant, a lot of silence, and some recorded sounds, Traces is a journey in which Raithatha’s body becomes her eyes as she searches for expression within a fortress of her imagination. There are moments of great beauty and force where her classical technique sustains her, but it is her choreographic approach and her innate sense of drama that takes her and Traces into exciting, unchartered territory.

Archana Ballal does not entirely leave behind her classical Indian training in As Small as a World and as Large as Alone, but she changes the context to a contemporary narrative on agoraphobia affecting a young woman planning to go on holiday. Using text and a contemporary musical context — including a sultry Pharaoh’s Dance by Miles Davis — Ballal represents herself as she is: a contemporary woman in a contemporary environment. She is dressed as she might be in her own flat, surrounded by a table with flowers in a vase, a couple of chairs, a suitcase and a wastepaper basket full of crumpled plans. She translates her text into gestures that avoid any literal relationship; they are a parallel physical expression with which she builds her dance. She spends a little too much time with the single idea of unpacking and repacking, losing the careful construction of the opening, but she finishes strongly where she began, with her indecision only delayed.

In Two by Two choreographer Hari Krishnan casts aside both the classical movement and the context. I am perhaps the only person not to have seen Vidya Patel win the South Asian category of the 2015 BBC Young Dancer of the Year Award, so when I see her natural ability in Krishnan’s work alongside Jaina Modasia I wonder who this extraordinary young woman is. First you notice the commanding eyes, and then she begins to move. Krishnan’s use of the thrust and parry gestures of a boxing match is a beautiful example of Patel’s flow extruded through a lyrical body, though it is also apparent in her effortless opening jumps. Krishnan’s vehicle is a witty and rhythmical abstraction of episodes that seem to wander in an out of classical dance with a sly and knowing grin. Modasia is a perfect foil for Patel, creating a harmony between the two that makes them and the choreography look as refreshing as a choreographic… vacation.


South Asian Dance Summit

Posted: June 1st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

South Asian Dance Summit, Pavilion Dance, May 17-18

Seeta Patel and Kamala Deva

The Art of Defining Me   photo: Peter Schiazza

The purpose of the 24-hour South Asian Dance Summit presented by Pavilion Dance South West and Asian Arts Agency was to demystify South Asian dance for presenters and producers by allowing them to get up close and personal with the traditional form and contemporary developments. What the summit achieved was to take South Asian dance out of its cultural, indigenous box and to put it on display as a communicative art. Paradoxically, it was seeing Seeta Patel interpreting Marvin Khoo’s Bharatanatyam solo, Dancing My Siva — with all its cultural associations — that put the entire summit in perspective. Here was a classical dance form with its unmistakable sophistication in gesture and rhythm that has been developing for hundreds of years; the way Patel danced it communicated effortlessly a beauty and an excitement that was timeless. At the same time the performance contextualised the efforts by other summit choreographers to derive a contemporary form.

Of the full-length works, Subathra Subramaniam’s Under My Skin takes gesture from another kind of theatre (that of the operating room) as its inspiration in her challenge to ‘the traditional boundaries between clinical practice and dance’. Where Subramanian dips in to the Bharatnatyam form becomes a point of self-identification, a vestige of a glorious past that has nevertheless embraced the present. In his latest work, Power Games, Shane Shambhu adopts the gestures of the trading floor in his comic-strip style story of the rise and fall of a market trader and in Erhebung, Mayuri Boonham marries the sculptural form of the body with a rigid sculptural framework by Jeff Lowe, resulting in a meditative play of movement against stillness, of ripe fruit on a tree.

The summit also presented ChoreoLAB2, a series of shorter works that are still in development. Subramaniam takes her inspiration for a solo from observations of mental illness; in Breathe, Ash Mukherjee crashes deliriously into the traditional form to see what remains; Anusha Subramanyam retains the humanity of the narrative form to depict the humanity of Aung San Suu Kyi and finally Seeta Patel and Kamala Devam play devil’s advocate in a short film called The Art of Defining Me. It raises impertinent yet pertinent questions for audiences and presenters alike, for while it thumbs its nose at cultural claustrophobia and narrow mindedness (as does Seeta Patel’s series of vignettes, What is Indian Enough?), its light-hearted approach effectively transforms our perceptions.

The summit organisers were keen to provide ample opportunities for dialogue between artists and presenters and to cross-reference the dance with other practices. In the lobby of Subramaniam’s Under My Skin were a bespoke tailor, Joshua Byrne, and the surgeon Professor Roger Kneebone (Subramaniam’s collaborator on the project), both of whom demonstrated their respective forms of hand gesture. What the summit showed is thus a broad, interrelated universe of creative expression showing not only the origins but also the new directions of the traditional form. We should not be impatient; we do not have the time to see the development of these forms over the next hundred years, but both past and future exist in the present moment, and that is where the summit unequivocally placed us.