“Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.”
– Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
There are two ways of watching a dance show.
One is the ‘Interpretative’ way usually employed during traditional dances or even a commercial contemporary ensemble quite beloved of the myriad dance reality shows on television. They tell a tale which the viewer is most often familiar with, through the words of the music as well as the movements of the dancers and follow a definite 3-point path of beginning, middle and end.
And then there is ‘Transcendence’ which is the best way to watch an abstract dance performance, a form that does not lend itself to any one definition or interpretation. The most satisfying way for a viewer to approach this performance is to watch it instinctively and allow it to bring out one’s emotions in response to whatever is happening on stage.
“Amaara – A Journey of Love” choreographed by Ashley Lobo is an abstract contemporary dance show and is the premier offering from Navdhara India Dance Theatre (NIDT), India’s first international dance company founded by Lobo. This performance was held in the St.Andrews Auditorium in Bandra on the 27th of March instant.
Indian-Australian choreographer Ashley Lobo who trained in the Bodenweiser Dance Centre (under the late Margaret Chapple) and the renowned Sydney Dance Company, in Classical Ballet, jazz and contemporary dance styles is also a qualified yoga teacher. Having choreographed extensively for stage and cinema his choreographic style reflects a strong sense of connection.
Lobo’s extensive knowledge of dance and yoga inspired him to develop the Prana Paint technique of dance which is “a unique sensitizing approach that explores movement through connectivity, yoga, breath and touch” and has been employed to great effect in Amaara. Lobo is also the founder of Danceworx Theatre Society whose one of the many projects include providing scholarships to the financially challenged to pursue dance as a vocation.
Amaara – A Journey Of Love
After a somewhat stern warning by a disembodied voice from the stage, to avoid any verbal cheering of the dancers since many of the dance pieces required complete silence, the curtains rose to unfold a sixty minute spectacle of energetic, enigmatic, sensuous sets of movements that took the viewer on an unbounded, non-sequential journey of love, a journey of souls seeking love, physically, spiritually, with another, with themselves and for all eternity.
The stage was a soothing dark, like a cozy nook in the home where one relaxes after the toils of the day but before long the yellow lights came up on the stage to illuminate a group of around ten dancers, both male and female as they formed a human dais upon which one of the female dancers rose and then stepped down on the floor after which the dancers coupled up in a beautiful display of physical connections which were sometimes playful and sometimes sensuous as they rolled over each other in stylized movements. This section ended with all the players looking upwards arms outstretched, as if towards a Divine Consciousness.
In a post-performance chat, Ashley Lobo, eager to know about Amaara’s effect on the viewer (different for each one), was also very specific that Amaara was not a linear narrative and the movements of the dancers were instinctive and actually “transcended movement.”
On prodding he admitted that Amaara was not entirely autobiographical but he was influenced by many of his life’s experiences. Amaara – the name is derived from dual inspirations: ‘amar’ which mean immortal and ‘Amara’ the greek goddess whose name means ‘eternally beautiful’ – takes you “into a world of experiencing the body and mind as they fuse their way to nothingness – a love story that just is and always was.”
Love is Adoration
Dressed in red sleeveless vests and turquoise half skirts, the women dancers matched the bare-chested, turquoise dhoti-skirted men, movement for movement. But within each segment there was always a lone figure, sometimes male and sometimes female that seemed to be lost in adoration of itself, in a bubble of self-love even as the couples around him/her indulged in sensuous acts of physical and emotional connection.
Love is Madness
A lone male dancer rubbed his head vigorously, his body wracked with tremors, hands and head raised upwards, seeking, seeking, seeking…
Love is Life
At one end of the stage began the ‘thread of life’. In every section of the show, this thread was drawn outwards into a wide, continuous loop by a dancer, sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, in tempo with the music but oblivious to the other dancers in that scene who were in turn oblivious to him/her.
Yet another recurring motif was a copper vessel that played multiple roles: sometimes as a container of precious life and knowledge desired by all, sometimes as a pendulum that marked time with its oscillations and sometimes just hanging mid-air as a mute witness to the goings-on around it.
The dancers, like life and love, came onto the stage in exultation, twirled and jumped, alone and/or with a partner, then dropped to the floor and writhing continuously, made an exit.
Love is Passion
This was the segment with the highest energy in which female dancers gave themselves up to uninhibited, joyous movements even as the tribal type music throbbed in the background. It ended with a female dancer astride a male dancer in a form very reminiscent of the powerful divine feminine.
Love is a Reflection
“The mirror images are not real, that they are empty of inherently existing nature,” says Dzongsar Khyentse in his book ‘What makes you not a Buddhist.’
The mirror was a prop in one of the segments: the male dancers held them up in front of their female partner and then this movement was reversed.
Chevrons of red and yellow light criss-crossed the stage to the beating of drums even as female dancers made singular split-leg movements, male dancers made aggressive gestures while in the background, male and female dancers made sharp, synchronized movements on the wooden pedestals in front of equidistant, textured gold-colored panels.
Love is Sempiternal
“And finally fulfilled yet hungry I rest in your gentle arms as I always did, for I was born of you and for you.”
As the lights dimmed and the dancers on the stage disappeared from view, one got a glimpse of the beautiful “nothingness” and sempiternity of love.
Hats off to Ashley Lobo, for the courage to move away from the oft-travelled road of a spoon-feeding ethic, to provide us an experience that was arousing, scaring and thought-provoking. Each and every dancer rose to the challenge with amazing dexterity and fluency in movements and expression and special mention must be made of Karma Chuki and Arjun Menon whose energetic and intense performances drew our eyes to them again and again.
Sandesh Shandilya’s music specially created for Amaara (as well as pieces by A.R Rahman, Jocelyn Pook and others) was instrumental in creating the right mood and ambience to transport us outside ourselves and inside the performances on the stage.
Is this a performance worth watching? YES. And like a good book that reveals more and more of its secrets in further re-readings, this show definitely merits more than a single viewing.
(This review was sponsored by The Dance Bible Company. The views are my own).
– Sonia Rao