Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Posted: January 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma, Lilian Baylis Studio, January 15

Iconographic collage of Seeta Patel in Sigma (photo: ASH)

In Sigma, presented at Lilian Baylis Studio as part of the 2018 London International Mime Festival, Sean Gandini, artistic director of Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, an accomplished bharatanatyam soloist and choreographer, propose a dialogue — or flirtation as Gandini calls it — between juggling and bharatanatyam. Sigma is the second of three such dialogues Gandini has curated, the first being with classical ballet (4×4 Ephemeral Architectures) and the third, Spring, with contemporary choreography by Alexander Whitley, which will premiere at Cambridge Junction next month.

The term ‘sigma’ means ‘sum of small parts’, aptly describing the structure of Gandini’s and Patel’s dialogue that examines aspects of their respective arts from their two distinct perspectives. Clearly nothing much will result from a dialogue where perspectives are too closely aligned, and on the surface there appears to be little in common between juggling and classical Indian dance. The history of juggling suggests it has always been an artistic form on the informal edges of entertainment; while it has developed its own virtuosic routines it has eschewed a formal musical or physical framework for the improvised freedom of the street or circus. By contrast, bharatanatyam has a long history of formalized representation with an improvisational core based on a close relationship with its musicians. In formalizing such a dialogue Gandini and Patel run the risk of either framing juggling too tightly or unframing bharatanatyam, but in their irrepressible curiosity they set out to explore how the geometries and dynamics of their respective arts intersect within their common experience of space and time.

By putting the two forms on the same stage, Sigma immediately reveals a formal affinity, a double intricacy of gesture and rhythm that initially sets the dialogue alight. It is in the inordinate physical dexterity, agility and coordination of hand and eye, as well as in the use of complex musical rhythms that the two art forms thrive. Seeing Patel’s refined hand gestures against the juggling hands of Kim Huynh and Kati Ylä Hokkala and to juxtapose the complex rhythms of bouncing balls with Patel’s and Indu Panday’s intricate footwork is to appreciate both arts in a fresh light. There are notable similarities, too, in the use of improvisation (uncommon in the western classical ballet tradition) and in the dynamic tension between concentration and relaxation that allows the performers of both forms to appear at ease as they negotiate demanding routines. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments in Sigma’s dialogue, one in which both art forms find themselves in new territory, is the section ‘Tribute to London’ in which both dance and juggling are performed to the syncopated rhythms of chanted tube station names. There are also some notable disagreements between the two forms: gesture in bharatanatyam is embedded in meaning, whereas in juggling it is a function of the dynamic act. This fundamental difference renders the section in which Patel and Huynh compete in physical expressivity rather flat because there is no standard of comparison. Another disagreement is in a contrasting sense of humour. Humour in juggling is a response both to the inherent illusion and the nonchalant virtuosity of the act. In bharatanatyam humour is embedded in the story that the artist expresses. Sigma carries no story in itself — except in the ethnological, autobiographical framing — so Patel and Panday are roped into Gandini’s sense of humour that appears to be less a result of dialogue than of acquiesence.

There is an external element in Sigma that enhances its presentation: the stage setting and Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting. What we see as we arrive is a bare stage with two bland, institutional dividers on wheels. As the performance unfolds, so do the screens, revealing mirrors on the hidden side that reflect both the audience and the performers. In the duet between Patel and Huyhn to the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Panday and Hokkala circle the performers with the mirrored panels, extending the sculptural forms of the choreography to which Hoare’s lighting gives a visual unity even if the full effect is evident only to those sitting in the middle of the stalls.

Out of the sum of its many components, however, Sigma fails to create a cohesive whole. The initial exploration throws up ideas like balls and keeps the dialogue afloat, but the joint dynamics fall off, and balls drop as the exchange deconstructs into its constituent soliloquys. At the end illusion peters out with a muted chorus of regrets.