An evening deeply rooted in Indian culture that is sure to plunge you into a stylised and traditional form of dance complemented by contemporary ideas.
The Darbar Festival has been going for 13 years to celebrate Indian music and dance, starting first in Leicester. This year it has been performed at The Barbican, Southbank and is now at Sadlers Wells. The evening is introduced by the creator of the piece, Mavin Khoo (Nattuvangam), and the forever delightful Akram Khan.
An Evening of Bharatanatyam moves through a traditional cycle of dance repertoire with slow balanced poses, rhythmic passages and quick energetic movements. This is often conveyed through sharp lines, articulate hands and deeply expressive eyes from Renjith Babu and Neha Mondal Chakravarty. Most of the time, their dancing is slow and sustained, which means that their athletic moments feel exciting and exuberant. Unfortunately these moments are fleeting and the pace of the much of the piece feels contained and slightly apprehensive before the final breakout in the last 10 minutes. This is beautifully danced by Chakravarty, who performs strongly throughout. However there are times when she loses her balance, which distracts from the slow stillness of the piece and makes one think merely about the technique of the dancer- which is a shame.
Babu also dances magnificently, and demonstrates excellence skills as a yogi master by holding a headstand for five minutes. He shows great flexibility in much sustained moments which is simply stunning to watch as he pulls his legs over his head to create animalistic shapes. However, the second time he does a headstand; it loses its impressiveness and feels unnecessary.
The live orchestra with Vishnudev Namboothiri on effortless vocals, Easwar Ramakrishnan on violin and BC Manjunath on mridangam, so readily evoked the feel of India in our imaginations. The orchestra truly creates a fantastic atmosphere and they are fascinating to watch at times due to their conviction whilst playing and singing.
The lighting, by Ric Montjoy, (and originally by Aideen Malone and Khan) are a clear stand out point for the show, with a moving grid of hundreds of rows of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling of the stage. This undulates and reforms into new shapes throughout the show to create a rippling effect that is mesmerising. These even came close to the dancers at times to give a sense of claustrophobia on the vast stage, which couples well with the dramatic ending of Chakravarty dancing in her own ecstasy.
The whole piece presents an archetypal look into Indian dance and a passionately religious story about their myths and the force of Shiva and Kali (creation and destruction). For someone whose eye is not trained in this technical style, it is a highly informative evening and fascinating to see this culturally different form on a western stage.
An Evening of Bharatanatyam played at Sadler’s Wells until 24 November 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.