On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of seeing Divya Kasturi and Shane Shambu perform a Mixed Double Bill at Southbank Centre. Both of them was presenting their own choreography in The Clore Ballroom, a space, which I have come to perceive as one of the most liberating and pleasurable places to both be in and perform in.
In this double bill Shane and Divya gave the audience an insight into the diversity that is present in South Asian dance and within that, it was also very clear that these two dancers both had their own individual interests and approaches to the movement that they had created stemming from different backgrounds and training.
Shane Shambu performed first that evening in a piece that combined visual theatre with striking physicality and artistic dexterity, all of which was deeply rooted in his Bharatanatyam training. The strong narrative drew on strong emotions that were conveyed to the audience with an intensity and clarity, thus, making it compelling to watch. Divya Kasturi’s work was one of articulated beauty, sincerity and a level of technical skill that any dancer would be in awe of. Divya’s background has seen her train in Kathak and Bharatanatyam. In addition to this she is also an accomplished singer, which her work that evening was also able to highlight.
I was completely drawn into the performances; the enticing beauty of the articulation in the hands in the mudras, the defined and eclectic use of different rhythms and how the dancers inhabited the movement in every sense, including through facial expression.
Another style in South Asian dance, which I have touched upon in a previous blog when I interviewed Katie Ryan, was Odissi, so I thought I would just finish off this blog by sharing a little about what Katie has shared with me about it.
Odissi is a classical dance style that originates from Orissa in Eastern India. Prior to being performed as stage art, Odissi was danced in a religious context as a form of worship.
The Odissi that we see performed today takes influences from contextual sculpture and text. Odissi can be in a ‘pure dance’ form (Nritta) and ‘expressional’ (Nritya/Abhinaya) most commonly to convey a narrative.
It is characterised by two stances –
1. Tribhanga (which literally means, ‘three parts break’, so there are 3 bends in the body; at the neck, waist and knee, hence the body is oppositely curved at waist and neck which gives it a gentle “S” shape )
2. Chauka (where there is equal weight distribution, with a wide stance in the legs and outstretched arms to create 4 right angles in the body).
Then, this is layered with the intricate hand gestures, neck movements and articulations; as well as movements with the eyes and of course, the astounding rhythmical footwork.
The relationship that South Asian dance, has with the musical accompaniment I find to be jaw-dropping and beautifully hypnotic. The body becomes the artistic instrument to highlight and accent the layers of rhythm, creating complementing accents that connect the two art forms within the one performance.
Whilst learning about Odissi I discovered that a classical programme of Odissi repertoire would conclude with ‘Moksha’. Moksha is described as a pure dance piece that increases in speed. The aim is for it to be performed with a meditative feeling, where the dancer is aiming “to reach salvation through their dancing”. This demonstrates perfectly the relationship between movement and music. As a dancer myself, I find it truly fascinating and it must be absolutely wonderful when you manage to achieve that level of ‘connection’ between your body and the accompaniment.
I am desperate to try it! Who wants to come dancing?