United Kingdom, Tanjore Quartet, Bhagavatula Sitarama Sarma, Wild Card: Seeta Patel – Something Then, Something Now, Sadler’s Wells, Sadler’s Wells (Lilian Baylis Studio), London, 26.9.2014 (J.O’D)
Curator & Performer: Seeta Patel
Performer: Pushkala Gopal
Choreography: Mavin Khoo, Pushkala Gopal, Seeta Patel
Conductor: Mavin Khoo
Vocals: Y Yadavan
Percussion: Bhavani Shankar
Violin: Achuthan Sripathmanathan
Supporting Vocals: Divya Kasturi
Composition: Tanjore Quartet
Jati (Rhythmic Composition):Bhagavatula Sitarama Sarma
Lighting Design: Guy Hoare
Producer: Gail Shock
As the audience filled the tiers of benches in the Lilian Baylis Studio, five musicians (or singer/musicians) were already sitting cross-legged on the floor to the left of the performing space producing strains of meandering sound. Before the house lights went down, one of the musicians announced that the dance to be performed was that of a ‘heroine’ who asks an indifferent friend to make the lord (Krishna) come to her.
Into the dramatically primed darkness stepped the figure of a female dancer – the indistinct outline of one, at least. The first part of her body to become clearly visible in lighting designer Guy Hoare’s dry-ice filled spotlight was her hand, its red-tipped fingers held aloft in what the programme notes describe as the ‘peacock feather’ position. The figure moved back and forth across the stage to the accompaniment of the musicians, the percussive striking of her feet on the floor, and the ring of ankle bells as she did so. When she stepped forward into brighter light, it was to startling effect: the purple, turquoise and gold of her sari; the gold, again, of her hair combs, ear-rings, nosering and necklace; the wide band of gold at her waist. With its colour and detail, the costume was almost a narrative in itself. More dazzling still were the dancer’s eyes, enormous behind their elaborate make up.
London-born Seeta Patel is both a dancer of contemporary dance and a ‘champion’ of the Indian classical dance style of Bharatanatyam. In some sections of this dance, she used her eyes, lips and eyebrows to plead with or coax the unseen friend; her hands meanwhile took the form of lotus flowers, conch shells, and in a particularly sensual moment, the peacock feather. In other, more danced sections she struck the poses of Indian statuary, beat the floor with the heel and ball of her foot, and performed plié-like movement that spread the pleats of her sari wide.
Sadler’s Wells ‘Wild Card’ evenings are designed to allow artists to present their own work alongside work by other artists that excites them. Seeta Patel’s dance lasted over one hour; it became a lived experience as well as, or even rather than, an entertainment. This left only a comparatively short time for the work of composer and performer Pushkala Gopal, who sang six songs, or extracts from songs. Seated on a dais with the musicians and a supporting vocalist, her facial expressions and hand gestures were paramount. They were particularly memorable in the final extract, the complaint of a man who finds the path to Shiva’s temple blocked by a large bull. Gopal’s sari, too, provided spectacle in the contrast of orange and green, and its intricate folds.