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.