Daksha Sheth Dance Company Festival  Theatre Edinburgh Review Wednesday 27th September 2017

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Daksha Sheth Dance Company perform “Sari” at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh for one night only as part of the larger “India@UK2017” programme.  The best description of “India@UK2017” comes from their own website, so to quote

“Celebrating 70 years of Indo-UK relations by bringing a slice of the cultural diversity that is India, India at UK2017, will blend in artistic traditions from the UK and will be organized by the Indian High Commission, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), the Ministry of Culture, and festival producer, Teamwork Arts, in association with key institutions in the UK across premier venues.”

Full details of all events can be found on their website at http://indiaatuk2017.com/

Who then are Daksha Sheth Dance Company? The answer to that question is that this company is widely recognised as India’s most innovative dance company, and spearheading that innovation are husband and wife team - Daksha Sheth and Devissaro.  This “marriage in life” brings also a “marriage in cultures”.  Renowned dancer and choreographer Daksha Sheth has a prestigious reputation in the Indian dance world, in the Kathak style, but she also draws inspiration from many other classical styles.  This inspiration extends past dance into other forms including the ancient indian martial art of Kalaripayattu, and some of tonight’s movements illustrate just how closely linked Indian dance and martial arts are in their body movements. Devissaro is an Australian born musician, composer and photographer and also director, composer of  groundbreaking musical ensemble Asima.  Also with the company their daughter, dancer Isha Sharvani and son, musician and percussionist Tao Issaro.  The other dancers of Daksha Sheth Dance Company are all individually and collectively some of the very best dancers in any Indian dance company.

 “Sari” as you would expect from the name is a wonderful celebration of the “Sari” not only as a cloth, but as deeply personal expression of the individual identity not only of the wearer, but everyone involved in the production of the Sari from the raw materials though to the weaving and the dying of the cloth.  At its heart the “sari” defines a large part of India's cultural identity, and how a woman chooses to wear her Sari reflects a large part of her own personal identity.  Through music, dance and images of Sari creation projected onto a backdrop we explore in this work the sheer pleasure that this garment brings to many people and the playful aspect of the Sari.  The dance and the music are a mixture of traditional Indian and western elements, and these are never easy to skilfully blend together as we are at the core working on two entirely different musical scales, timings and rhythmic structures, and it is a huge credit to the skills of Daksha Sheth and Devissaro that the blend is seamless.

Having said all of the above though, does “Sari” work as a performance piece?  The answer to that is for me in some areas yes and in some areas no.  The dance is wonderful to watch and it is interesting to see clearly here the roots of so many other global dance styles and their rhythmic structures, including classical Flamenco.  The spread of dance styles by wandering gypsy travellers was the seeds of pollination for so many dance styles, and classical Indian dance is the mother style of so many dance forms as these gypsies travelled through India, Morocco and Spain.  If I have any issues with “Sari” it is actually from a stage point of view.  Although very clearly part of the set and used by the performers many times, the front of stage vertical ropes (cotton plants I presume) did heavily restrict when they were there the view of the dancers behind it for the audience, and they also from some angles broke up the film projections making the text very difficult to read at times.  The set itself was also at times lit in darker colours, and this coupled with the aforementioned issue did make on stage sets far darker than the big bright splash of colour that I was expecting.  The Festival Theatre stage is also one of the largest in the UK, and at times it did seem that the small number of dancers were struggling a bit to fill this huge performance space.  At times too, there was a little dated feel to the music – a sort of back to the Beatles days of East meets West of the late 1960s.

Overall though, Daksha Sheth Dance Company and Sari was a performance that I liked and I found amazing similarities in the film and sounds of the “weaving” section to traditional Scottish weavers. Daksha Sheth Dance Company did exactly what they do best here – challenge stereotyped perceptions of not only what Indian dance and music can be, but also of what India and its many divergent people are as a cultural identity.

For more information on the company visit their website at

http://www.dakshasheth.com/

 

 

Review by Tom King

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