Uday – Shyam Dattani
Uday – The Awakening
A solo debut by Shyam Dattani
16 September 2019
Arts Depot, Finchley
Photos: Credit Simon Richardson
The two most common approaches to dancers beginning to perform solos remind one of bathers entering a cold sea: some students prefer to sidle into the water, breath held and looking pained, jumping at the thousand tiny shocks of exposure that incrementally deepening water brings, until they find themselves afloat and accustomed to the cold; others throw caution to the wind and, racing down the beach to leap in, howl at the unforethought nip on their skin, flail, splash and almost sink, but ultimately right themselves and swim on.
Shyam Dattani has by now such an experience of performance that one might expect that he had been securely afloat for some time; but it is quite another thing to simultaneously hold aloft the weight of a ninety-minute solo show backed by live music from five musicians. He did so in a way that suggested that the load was only a light one. Those who have been in similar situations will know that it is anything but.
Shyam’s mix of pieces included a significant amount of pure dance, and he brought it off with panache. His technique is without question very strong. His footwork was all present and correct, not only in the tihais and ladis which rely on footwork, but also during the movement-focused tukras and parans. At more than a few points, he managed to unleash an impressive barrage of spins that seemed no more than a stroll in the park for him. However, beyond all the stamping and the turns and the fireworks, and during the twists and bends in the slower pace of thaat and aamad and gat, were signs of something more fundamental at work, of his capacity to understand a movement and his body’s ability to not only make it manifest but also to give it life. It will be interesting to see how far and in what direction this undoubted lyricism can be taken.
All the choreography for the night was by Urja Thakore Desai, Shyam’s teacher for some years now. Her kathak style derives from that of her guru, Kumudini Lakhia, and has since developed separately from that: modern and dignified; in part vigorous and in part emotive; often unexpected and yet never losing the essence of a composition by opening out too many of its parts to new movements or introducing anything jarring. But the real joy of the evening was the near-seamless melding of the style and the dancer: Shyam gave Urja Thakore Desai possibly one of the fullest expressions of her style to date, to such an extent that the choreography seemed to incarnate itself on stage around Shyam, and take flight to soar around the rafters.
Even the (few) mistakes that Shyam confessed to seemed to matter more for him than for the audience, and it is a testament to his tenacity that he preferred to re-do the compositions than glide past them. If one wanted to pick at something, one could find that relative to the surrounding surety of high-energy items, the ghazal lacked impact and its narrative line was somewhat unfocused. Managing such a big shift in energy half-way through a performance is a difficult thing to do however, and it may be only that further thought needs to be given about how better to do that.
The musical accompaniment for the performance was excellent. Praveen Prathapan stood out for his flute-playing, as did the extraordinary Kirpal Panesar, who with one bow of his esraj, made the hair of half the kathak dancers in the audience stand on end. A grateful mention should also be made of the slick presentation of the whole show, which was blissfully without the baggy speeches, guests of honour and other fatuousness which usually blight debut performances.
If Shyam Dattani considers this to be only his solo debut performance in kathak, he implicitly promises more performances to come. I look forward to them all.