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Sonia Sabri - 'Rekha'

Her secret garden

by Cerise

June 5, 2004 – Purcell Room, London

Recalling Sonia Sabri’s past performances, a blur of spins, colour, smiles, and a flurry of exquisitely precise footwork is the impression that has left a trace; and, somewhere at the vortex of this, a delicate, fine-boned figurine with tapering, elegant arms is propelled by an effervescent centrifugal force. This force is Sonia Sabri, a superlatively masterful Kathak technician, now no longer voiceless as she speaks out for her artform in between dancing, informing and involving her audience and intensifying their enjoyment. Initially, the necessity of this interlocution is at risk of being misunderstood as a demystifying process for what is already eloquent, mythical and magical. The Sufi poems of the first half of the programme “Bi-dai”, “Az yaar juda”, and “Malhar” are depicted through codified Kathak gestures, many of which are accessibly mimetic, yet the performance is infused with so much emotion that the mood is readable without the need to digest every stylistic nuance. Saturday night London Kathak afficianados maybe do not need the synopsis interlocuted, charming as Sonia Sabri’s delivery is.

In the second half of the programme, however, there is a shift away from fixed choreographies to a more unorthodox interpretation of a Kathak performance, and now Sonia Sabri and her musicians become even more technicoloured through an improvisation so complex that the punctuating spoken explanations are like golden keys into a matrix of secret gardens. Sarvar Sabri on tabla, Gulfam Sabri providing vocal and harmonium accompaniment and Nasir Khan playing sarangi create such a vibrant energy at the side of the stage that dust rises visibly, lit by the sidelights. Sarvar Sabri speaks into the microphone to ask if we are enjoying the sound of his 200 year-old base tabla as much as he is. A rhetorical question, of course. Sonia Sabri takes pauses from a series of breathtaking dance improvisations to count in the next increment of the unusual 14 beat cycle, “Farodust” and to share a few thoughts: left intentionally incomplete and open to our infinitesimal possible interpretations. Her words are enough, though, for us to make an anticipatory connection with the complexly unfolding process taking place: a flow of rhythm and dialogue between dancer and musicians, each challenging the other to a swift, precise and technically demanding game, bending and twisting the rules, testing the boundaries of orthodoxy and tradition.

Tuned in to every rapid beat of tabla, Sonia Sabri’s incredibly versatile “Farodust” improvisation builds to a crescendo finale, demonstrating her relentless stamina. She projects so much warmth and depth with every darting arm and each flickering smile that this playful ad libbing seems paradoxical the sheer breathtaking skill of it all. Somehow, it is the remaining kaleidoscopic aura that imprints Sonia Sabri on the memory.

Edited by Jeff.

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