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Sonia Sabri Company - 'Red'

by Lyndsey Winship

February 22, 2005 -- Purcell Room, London

Sonia Sabri is an ambitious choreographer. She could easily keep an audience happy with a kathak recital showcasing the crowd-pleasing, foot-stamping, swift-spinning tricks of the Indian form. But Sabri’s interests, like those of one of her mentors, Shobana Jayasingh, lie in moving beyond tradition to explore broader ideas with her art form.

Her new production, "Red", is based on the powerful connotations of colour. The show is the combined results of a number of projects which have taken place during 14 months of research and development in the UK and in India. Unfortunately, while on paper this starting point may provide a cohesive theme, it doesn’t work on stage. Visually and stylistically there are six or so very different pieces which lack overall focus.

Some of the work however, is fantastic. In one section Sabri dances a solo demonstrating the idea of red signifying anger (in fact, the word red may come from the Sanskrit ‘rudra’ which means exactly that). She is a performer with real dramatic power, arms flailing, her wide eyes raging, murderous even, but revealing many layers of emotion. Another effective section sees the three dancers incorporate thudding thigh and chest slaps into their into their tight rhythmic sequences.

Sabri is the standout performer. Her body completely at ease with the movement, she is free to connect with the audience and has a cheeky glint in her eye that is both endearing and intriguing. Her two fellow performers Genevieve Jordan and Amina Khayyam show very different qualities. Khayyam is elegant and serene, while Jordan sticks out a little, not so much for her white skin and blonde hair as her tall slim physique, which gives her body a different sense of gravity. With a slightly stiff upper body, she is not so naturally expressive as the others but when she pulls off a series of slick, quick turns you can’t doubt her technique.

These cultural differences follow through to the score, composed by tabla player Sarvar Sabri, who performs with vocalist Gulfam Sabri and saxophonist Alvin Davies. The collision of jazz and Indian music works well when Davies improvises on Indian scales to make mesmerising music, less so when he scats a riff and the musicians and dancers all join in in a cacophonous free jazz odyssey. It’s supposed to represent light waves vibrating a trillion times a second, which is all very well, but everyone is relieved when Sabri comically shouts “Shut up!” and it’s time for the interval.

Some other sections either don’t feel sufficiently developed or edited, or lack continuity. But the finale, a happy sliding and stamping dance called "Cheeky Feet", is fun, if a bit rough around the edges.

This performance felt like a tentative first outing for "Red" – although it wasn’t the premiere. And Sabri’s stage presence is anything but tentative – but could definitely be polished into something brighter. However, Sabri will no doubt go on to produce some great work when her experience matches her ambition.


Edited by Staff.

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