Kamala Devam Company’s Ankusha and Other Mysteries “is an invigorating explosion of exuberance!”

Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by Vipul Sangoi

Review by Shezad Khalil

Kamala Devam Company’s first UK tour ended with a performance of Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London.

Having observed Kamala Devam’s accomplished dance and movement based-skills in the past, this was an exciting moment as this was the first time that I would observe her conceptions as part of Kamala Devam Company.

The evening commenced with the first piece: Less of Me. This was a solo in which, following surgery, Devam questioned the ‘changed’ space within her now, as well as the anxiety and confusion that lay ahead due to this alteration.

This was communicated intricately through Devam’s control and mastery of the gestural lexis of Bharata Natyam as well as through the terminology of contemporary dance and spoken word.

Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by by Vipul Sangoi
Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by by Vipul Sangoi

This was then followed by Devam and Seeta Patel’s multi-award winning film: The Art of Defining Me. At first glance, this took a humorous angle on the idea of the tick-box culture and how Devam and Patel have witnessed a sense of close-mindedness concerning the notion of authenticity in dance.

However, on closer inspection, there was a more serious issue at work. For instance, by observing Patel moving inside a confined wooden structure, and in and out of doors (using some of the vocabulary of Bharata Natyam), the film questioned why there was a continual need to place the ‘exotic’ inside a constrained space?

The succeeding work: Jati-Swara-Leela was influenced by the ‘jatiswaram’ which is a pure dance presentation in the Bharata Natyam repertoire that is set to rhythmic syllables and musical notes.

The piece incorporated the use of live music: Danny Keane—cello, Pirashanna Thevarajah; percussion, and Swati Seshadri; nattuvanar. Rather than the musicians accompanying the dancer which is what occurs in a conventional ‘jatiswaram’, Devam broke this tradition in order to display a sense of ‘togetherness’ and ‘oneness’ as all of the artists worked in synchronisation and harmony.

Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by Vipul Sangoi
Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by Vipul Sangoi

This was a refreshing, powerful and dynamic piece. Every part of Devam’s body expressed vigour, strength and vitality as she owned the stage space making sure that the musicians were also a part of this energising experience.

This was also a composition that epitomised Devam’s ability to demonstrate that Bharata Natyam is not necessarily a static dance form. It can truly be experimented with in order to move its language forward.

The interval was followed by Babushka vs. Renaissance Man. Danced by Kamila Lewandowska, this was an electrifying examination into what can occur when the movement syntax of popping and the Indian martial art form of kalaripayattu come into contact with one another.

What shone in this motif was the intensity of Lewandowska’s body movements in investigating and experimenting with different grammatical systems in order to produce some form of negotiation.

Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by Vipul Sangoi
Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries. Photo by Vipul Sangoi

The evening culminated with an energetic work of art: Ankusha. This was a fearless piece of artistry that brought together the talents of Devam and dancers Tamzen Moulding and Franco Conquista.

Through the use of a range of movement styles as acrobatics, contemporary dance, physical theatre and Bharata Natyam, the performers charged across the performance space at great speed. Suddenly, this turned into the dancers moving in close proximity and in-between and through one another as their bodies created numerous and necessary spaces. And, as the piece went on, the narrative and movements appeared to become even more daring and the tension increased through the vigorous pushing and pulling of the dancers.

It was these conflicting and contrasting motions that symbolised the ankusha; the elephant goad held in the right hand of the Hindu deity Ganesha, ‘used symbolically to push souls down the path towards their destiny and pull them back to the intended path from which they stray’ (programme notes).

Ankusha, as well as all of the evening’s work then questioned: ‘Does fate or free will have a greater hand in shaping the course of our lives?’, ‘How do we define ourselves without limiting our potential?’, And ‘In a battle against ourselves, who will come out as victor?’

Ankusha and Other Mysteries is quite simply an invigorating explosion of exuberance!

Reviewed on 1 December at Bernie Grant Arts Centre by Shezad Khalil

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