A performance that is entirely, purely, dance is a rare treat in Oxford, but it is what Anuradha Chaturvedi’s company Drishti Dance gave us at the Old Fire Station on Friday in Facet, as part of the Offbeat Festival.  Chaturvedi brought together professional and student dancers in a vivid and innovative double bill of two interlinked works that were quite simply about dance.

Kathak is an ancient, sophisticated and complex Indian classical dance form, redolent of a history that goes back beyond the Moghul kings of North India, with a vocabulary of detailed gestures, stamping and rhythmic spins that thrilled and enthralled the audience on Friday night; and what an audience it was!  The excitement in the auditorium beforehand was palpable, as we heard the sound of the dancers’ ankle bells as they gathered in the wings.  A little boy behind me exclaimed ‘they are like gods!’ – and so they were, in their gorgeous green, blue, orange, black and gold silks, bathed in a mist of coloured light.

Chaturvedi herself is an exceptionally exciting performer with a rare capacity for direct and personal communication with every audience member. I also admired Sonia Chandaria for the way in which she contained and then released energy and Meena Selva Anand for her power of projection, while it was an additional pleasure to see Jaina Modasia (who has been a BBC Young Dancer finalist in her section) and the very young dancer Aiyana Tandon. The performances of five students alongside these more experienced artists is a testament to Chaturvedi’s ability as both teacher and director, as every one of them conveyed a sense of sheer delight in dance.

The first work, Aur ek Antaraal, conceived and choreographed by Chaturvedi herself, is a contemporary Kathak work for three dancers that draws inspiration from a poem about the passing of time. The second work, Re-Textured, for all ten dancers, pushed at the boundaries of traditional Kathak dance using different beat rhythm cycles with great technical skill.

It is fascinating to see how this historic art form can be adapted and continue to grow among communities in new times and places.  Although the works were choreographed for viewing from the front, in the traditional Western manner, the audience engagement and expectations felt similar to that which I have experienced in performances ‘in the round’.  In this respect Kathak shares some of the challenges faced by dance forms such as Flamenco: how to bring a spontaneous social or religious dance form into the theatre without diluting its connective power and meaning.  Chaturvedi succeeds in achieving a delicate balance between the traditional and the experimental, weaving her dancers through graceful groups and patterns, with a rich variety and depth of movement that never allows the complexity of individual gesture to mask the beauty of the whole.  The performance only lasted an hour, but I could have watched these dancers all night.

Maggie Watson

4th July 2018