Not Todays Yesterday
Wednesday 3 October 2018
Reviewed by Nicholas Minns and Caterina Albano
Not Today’s Yesterday
Seeta Patel’s response to Brexit and Donald Trump is a post-colonial fable, Not Today’s Yesterday, that challenges not so much fake news as fake history. As a distinguished bharatanatyam dancer, Patel takes a critical look behind the history of her art to discover some whitewash she aims to challenge. The past is the backstory of today, which is why the philosopher George Santayana claimed that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ What Patel and choreographer Lina Limosani extrapolate from Santayana is that if history is whitewashed then not only is it of no value to remember but it fuels ‘a distorted sense of nationalism.’ Not Today’s Yesterday is both a statement and an attempt to put some of the original colour back into history.
Paradoxically Patel and Limosani have co-opted whitewash as their metaphor which proscribes the colour palette to shades of black and white that imposes its own set of rules on the fable’s imagery, from Lydia Cawson’s costumes to Chris Faulds’ set to Guy Hoare’s sharply contrasted lighting. The text, written by Patel with script support from Sharmila Chauhan is in the form of a cautionary fable that begins in sparkling wonder and turns progressively cynical.
Emerging into the light from a darkened stage Patel is dressed in a silver-grey robe on a pedestal in front of a reflecting screen; she embodies a fertility goddess perhaps, telling her story of a bountiful land where people live in harmony, animals have no horns or claws, and forests are sacred. This is Patel doing what she does so well, illustrating the enchantment of the story with the enchantment of her eloquent eyes, gestures and movements. But there’s a difference: the endgame is already in sight. She incorporates the dark complexity of her fable in gestures that begin to cross time and space where ancient and modern mythologies collide; at times she lip-syncs her recorded text so her mouth becomes an additional choreographic motif. From behind the screen she slides out what look like framed glass set squares that transform into a fleet of East India Company ships plying their trade while a hanging rope becomes a length of hair whose silken strands she braids and wraps around her head as a metaphor for ancestral bonds, lineage, and memory. This is the seductive, silver era of exchange between East and West but, to Limosani’s audio collage of key phrases from war speeches by British and American leaders, it turns into a dark epoch of conquest and exploitation just as the whitewashing begins. Patel’s bountiful goddess effaces herself behind a screen of poured rivulets of white paint — an image made more powerful when she is further obscured by trying to clean it — and she becomes a mighty dark figure clashing horns and spitting claws in an exquisitely grotesque shadow puppet show behind the whitened screen.
Patel is still within the considerable range of her gestural artistry, but now the indignation of her unraveling fable takes her into new territory. Donning a transparent plastic crinoline and wearing her whitened, braided hair pinned with a diadem she begins a vaudeville romp as Queen Victoria, Empress of India, to Johann Strauss’s An Artist’s Life. It’s as if one of Gerald Scarfe’s more venomous satirical cartoons had taken to the stage. She finally folds her braid into the shape of a baby in her arms and holds it up. A shot is heard and the braid drops to the floor to recorded applause and the reprise of political voices in an operatic finale. Patel’s gestures are contorted and tense, her figure dark in a final rumble of thunder.
After each performance there’s a discussion curated by Ian Abbott to engage the audience in the issues of Not Today’s Yesterday: what happened, what did not happen and what could yet happen. It’s an intelligent, provocative package.
Further tour dates:
12th Oct - Watermans Arts Centre
Box Office: 020 8232 1010
13th Oct - Kala Sangam, Bradford
23rd Oct - Patrick Centre, Birmingham
Box Office: 0844 338 5000