Dar­bar fes­ti­val

The Guardian Weekly - - Culture - Lyn­d­sey Win­ship

Sadler’s Wells, Lon­don ★★★★☆

Hands and faces are two sorely un­derused body parts in western dance, of­ten an af­ter­thought to ac­ro­batic limbs. But in In­dian clas­si­cal dance they’re where the ac­tion is at. Epic sto­ries un­fold in the nar­row­ing of eyes, rais­ing of brows, the purs­ing or curl­ing of lips and the ar­range­ments of fin­gers.

The eight In­dian clas­si­cal dance forms have been around for a cou­ple of thou­sand years, way longer than bal­let, but it’s rare to see them on a ma­jor stage in pure form, rather than con­tem­po­rary fu­sion. Akram Khan (one pro­po­nent of such fu­sion) has cu­rated this event, ex­plor­ing three dance forms: bharatanatyam, kathak and odissi, part of the Dar­bar fes­ti­val of clas­si­cal In­dian mu­sic.

For the unini­ti­ated, clas­si­cal art forms can feel im­pen­e­tra­ble, but they share a sense of sym­me­try, pro­por­tion, bal­ance and beauty that seems to be univer­sal across cul­tures. A new piece by chore­og­ra­pher Mavin Khoo is per­formed by two young dancers, Neha Mon­dal Chakravarty and Ren­jith Babu: she, as Kali, sharp to the rhythms and subtle of fa­cial ex­pres­sion; he, as Shiva, warm, in­no­cently imp­ish and very good at head­stands. Chakravarty swells with strength then sud­denly shrinks with fear, as the pair ap­pear to be locked in a yin/yang bat­tle with them­selves and each other.

It’s all framed by an ar­rest­ing light­ing in­stal­la­tion: hun­dreds of bulbs hang­ing in a ra­di­ant ceil­ing that shape-shifts for each piece. Dar­bar of­fers only a small dip into clas­si­cal In­dian dance, but it’s great to see some of the breadth and qual­ity of that art form cen­tre stage.

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