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AUDIENCE REVIEW: “Dancing Emptiness” choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas
Choreography: Aditi Mangaldas, Dancer: Gauri Diwakar, Vocalist: Bhuvanesh Komkali, Musician: Abhishek Shanker
July 26th 2019
Swept away by music and dance in perfect synchronicity
July 26, 2019
Sri Ram Performing Arts Centre
New Delhi, India
Choreography: Aditi Mangaldas
Dancer: Gauri Diwakar
Vocalist: Bhuvanesh Komkali
Musicians: Abhishek Shanker, harmonium;
Lighting: Govind Singh Yadav
Sound: Yogesh Dhavan
Finding a seat in the packed Theater at the Sri Ram Centre in New Delhi, one had to be struck by the care taken to create a mood on stage even before any action took place. A cloth backdrop was drenched in oxblood color, the rest of the stage fading away into darkness, with only a simple low platform on stage right with microphones and instruments placed at the ready. Enter the five male musicians, all dressed in cream-colored kurtas, seating themselves silently in front of their instruments – tablas, pakhawaj, harmonium and sarangi, with the vocalist, Bhuvanesh Komkali in the middle position.
Lights come up on Gauri dressed in layers of gold fabric, long black hair impeccably arranged, make-up accentuating her soft features. She is the senior disciple of the famed dancer/choreographer Aditi Mangaldas, who has created the original choreography for the evening-length work using traditional Kathak vocabulary bent and modulated in her distinctive fashion. Gauri is perched downstage left in a pool of light, unwinding a long golden rope in a ritualistic manner, occasionally gazing up into the unknown. This weaving of fabric is a theme that runs through the production, literally and figuratively, as is the search into the abyss demonstrated by the sudden gaze up into the unknowable sky.
The production is divided into sections, most powerfully when vocalist and dancer join together in exquisite interplay, guiding the audience into abstract territory that, though purporting to describe emptiness, strikes me as fullness: Mortals joining forces in sublime artistry to fill the senses with magnificent images and sounds.
Dynamic variety is a constant throughout the 80 minutes, Aditi cannily avoiding sameness and exploiting Gauri’s prodigious technique. In Kathak, sometimes there is a feeling that the performer is checking off boxes: See, I can do 100 turns; see,I can count out complex rhythms and match the tabla player with my footwork no matter how fast he goes; see, I can tell stories with my facial expressions and hand gestures. n this production by contrast, every move is calculated to advance the narrative, regardless of the fact that this is not a story from Hindu mythology – rather an exploration of space, time, the universe and the search for meaning.
One section makes use of a special lighting effect wherein only the footlights from the side are used, illuminating Gauri’s feet as she performs a metronomic pattern, like a sewing machine executing a complicated stitch, circumnavigating the stage.
Musical interludes punctuate the production, allowing Bhuvanesh to let loose with his magnificent vocal techniques, ululating or vibrato at one moment, sustaining a pure note in perfect pitch in another, his hand reaching out as a physical manifestation of his song. The harmonium player is his companion, doubling, countering, embellishing the celestial vocal lines, as is the sarangi player – an instrument that is often said to approach the human voice most closely.
The two percussionists are the heartbeat of the production – mirroring and underlining Gauri’s perfect footwork, teasing her, supporting her, challenging her and becoming one with her.
Towards the end of the production, Gauri has a long length of golden cloth which she treats with motions relating back to the opening golden rope. But this time, she swirls around and around, the golden cloth becoming a chrysalis, or a ring around her planet.
The use of her upper body was notable for the bends and curves and swirls; her arms, shoulders and head arching back without any disturbance to the balance of her body as she jumped and turned with never the slightest waver. Hers is a mastery of technique and artistry, beautifully exploited by the choreographer who knows her disciple so well.
New York deserves to see this type of production and yet where and how? Let’s hope there will be the chance to bring it and other similarly inventive and perfectly rehearsed productions into mainstream Manhattan theaters in the future.
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Jonathan Hollander, President and Artistic Director, Battery Dance Company & Dancing to Connect