Ankusha and Other Mysteries
Ankusha and Other Mysteries
Kamala Devam Company
4 November 2018
Reviewed by Magdalen Gorringe
Kamala Devam Company’s debut UK tour brings together an extraordinary range of talents and movement styles.
In the opening piece, 'Less of Me', Devam reflects, post-surgery, on the realities of mortality, ageing and the choices that make us who we are. Devam’s initial disquiet at having a part of herself removed gives way to an exuberant embrace of the new possibilities this suggests. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’ she says before flipping and gliding across the space in a short, but beautifully formed gem of a dance work.
Seeta Patel and Devam’s award-winning film The Art of Defining Me comes next, with a humorous and at times painful look at the nature of authenticity. At one point the film portrays Devam being interviewed about herself and her vision of herself as a dancer. ‘Kamala. Did you know that means lotus flower?’ asks the Asian interview panellist (played by Patel). ‘Well yes’ answers Devam mildly - ‘It is my name.’
The final piece of the first half is a compelling interpretation of a Jatiswaram, 'Jati-Swara-Leela', performed with live musicians Danny Keane (cello), Pirashanna Thevarajah (mrdangam and vocal percussion) and Pushkala Gopal (nattuvangam). Devam’s choreography embeds dialogue with musicians at the heart of the piece, and transforms the Jatiswaram (often a slightly laboured piece) - into something electric. Devam’s execution is stunning – the control and strength she evinces elsewhere in the show in her acrobatics translates into a bharatanatyam with every movement carried to its fullest, every part of the spine articulated, every muscle engaged. Combined with crystal lines and an enviable aramandi, Devam’s nrtta is a joy to watch. She impressively incorporates elements of an improvised nrtta dialogue with the musicians – and it is a testament to their partnership that I had not actually realised that part of the piece was improvised until I looked at the programme notes. Devam’s own virtuosity is matched by that of the musicians, Keane and Thevarajah, who each perform remarkable solos, and of course the presence of the now legendary Pushkala Gopal lends dignity and strength to any performance. True to the title, there is a playfulness in the piece, both in the improvised to and fro with the musicians, and in Devam’s at times refreshingly quirky take on some of the classic adavus. For this piece alone, every bharatanatyam student in the UK should see this show as part of their education.
The second half starts with an intriguing combination of body popping and kalarippaiyattu, choreographed by Devam and performed by Kamila Lewandowska. Lewandowska is a beautiful dancer – and the combination of kalari with body popping makes for seductive viewing, though I wasn’t sure that the ‘struggle and liberation’ articulated in the programme notes entirely translates to the audience.
The final piece, Ankusha, brings together the formidable talents of Devam herself with dancer/ gymnasts Tamzen Moulding and Franco Conquisto. At times, the dancers hurtle across the stage, over, under and around each other in a rush of movement arrested by moments of still and sudden synchrony. At another point Devam is caught in a moment of a contorted 7th nattadavu, while Moulding is trapped in a loop throwing her upside down on one hand – again and again, evoking the relentlessness of the force of destiny (represented by the Ankusha - or the elephant goad – of Lord Ganesha). A sparring yet tender duet between Moulding and Conquisto is rudely interrupted by Devam pushing herself between them – and I felt a sense of loss as these passionate lovers seem to surrender too easily to the exigencies of fate. In the end, I felt I lost track of the narrative – which may be Devam’s point - in questioning our need for a coherent narrative about our lives at all.
This is a tremendous show, highlighting the skill, variety and imagination present in the UK’s classical Indian dance sector. For all the sector’s flaws, we have some wonderful artists.