Kathakbox: Living Multicultural Possibilities

Thursday 1st March 2012, Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, 8pm

by Sitara Thobani

The Pegasus Theatre was filled with praise and joyful appreciation as the Sonia Sabri Company presented Kathakbox, part of the Dancin’ Oxford 2012 line up. Weaving together dance and spoken word, the production was a wonderful reflection of multicultural Britain as experienced in urban centres across the UK, not only for its chosen subject matter but also for its actual performance aesthetic. Dancers from styles as diverse as North Indian Kathak, Western Contemporary and urban street dancing combined their talents with vocalists specialising in singing, beatboxing and bol – the often tongue-twisting syllables called out by the tabla player that accompanies Kathak dance. Indeed, even though the show was organised into distinctive segments – solos, duets and sections in which the entire group performed at once – that were gripping in their own right, the production was truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Kathakbox was an interrogation of identity and pluralism, which so often confine people to narrow categories and force them to ‘tick the right box’. And while the show was at times extremely literal – in one of the introductory sequences, the dancers scrambled and struggled to find their place in the ‘right’ box that had been traced on the stage floor  – its humour and the warm personalities of the performers made it resonate with the audience in a powerful way. Laughter, cheers and cries of amazement from the audience could be heard throughout the evening, especially when Shane Bansil the beatboxer, Sarvar Sabri the tabla player, and Nathan Geering the b-boy displayed their impressive talents.

Kathakbox had something to offer an audience that was as diverse as its cast.  Although its name and the classical Kathak training of its choreographer and performer, Sonia Sabri, at times linked the show to the Indian classical dance style, the production incorporated so much more and created something entirely new, not reducible to a label or singularity of style.  Each performer played a role that, at least to the viewer, seemed entirely personal, making the performance feel sincere and relatable. It was impossible not to be swept away by their dance, their conviction and their stories. Sitting in the audience, it did not feel as if we were simply watching the show but that we were living it alongside with the performers. To conceive of the show without any one of these performers seems impossible, which is a strong testament to the fine balance they have achieved. It also speaks to each performer’s ability to connect with the audience and build a relationship over the duration of the show. While much work remains to be done to realize the harmony that Kathakbox captured so inspiringly on stage within larger society, watching and being part of the show was bound to leave audiences with a sense of possibility and a determination to try.