Soldiers of the Empire
Soldiers of the Empire
Annapurna Indian Dance
2 July 2018
Reviewed by Anna Kuppuswamy
Dancers representing the various classical dances of India solemnly walked through the audience carrying a portrait of the Unknown Soldier, and thus began an evening of dance dedicated to all fallen soldiers. Against a backdrop of what looked like a group of men marching across a desert, the narrator recounted the involvement of Indian soldiers in the first world war, followed by a series of invocatory dance numbers in the various classical dance styles - bharatanatyam, mohiniyattam, odissi and kathak.
The story then started with a boy lovingly raised by his parents in a remote village in India, enjoying the various childhood activities with not a care in the world. Soon the boy grows into a healthy young man and the call comes to fight in the great war. With little idea about the cause or who he is fighting for, the young man sets off into the unknown, leaving everything he knew, behind. The war begins and his fate is unknown.
The evening was an interesting mix of robust dancing, beautiful singing and narration of lesser-known facts presented by artists of varying calibre in various stages of their careers. A soulful piece depicting the interaction between the young boy and his mother was well presented. The elaborate portrayal of separation, although beautifully capturing the emotions, could have been more succinct and nuanced. The use of ‘Nottu swaras’, a composition of the popular 18th-century composer, Muthuswamy Deekshidhar, to depict war, was an appropriate choice of music, bringing out the cadences of war. The abrupt end to the evening with three relatively junior dancers presenting a thillana was disappointing.
Soldiers of the Empire was an attempt to bring to light the much-neglected role of the Indian soldiers in the first world war (it was in planning ahead of other commemorations of the centenary), and for this Shantha Rao and her company of dancers must be applauded. Annapurna Dance company, based in Halifax, is one of the oldest Indian dance companies in the UK and Shantha Rao has been doing a commendable job keeping Indian dance alive in the community in the north of the UK, driven by the ethos of inclusivity and accessibility. Soldiers of the Empire reflected these ideals wholeheartedly by providing a platform for artists of all calibres and experience, which, although great for boosting camaraderie amongst performers, did little to project Soldiers of the Empire as a professionally directed dance production.
Dancers: Santosh Menon, Rashmi Sudhir, Chamundeshwari Kuppuswamy and Tuhina Bhattacharya
Musicians: Vijay Venkat and Rimpa Singha Roy
Storyteller: Ian Clayton
Video projections: Dr Shrivasa Desai
Concept and Direction: Shantha Rao