mac Productions & Sampad
'Dido and Aeneas'
July 22, 2005 -- mac, Birmingham, UK
The effect of counterpoint betweenbBaroque music and Bharata Natyam (or traditional Indian folk dance styles) has been used to create both a culture clash and aesthetic symbiosis by Shobana Jeyasingh, and has set a precedent for South Asian dance in Britain. Of late there has been renewed attention from the arts media to the striking resonances between the storylines, dramatic devices and values of western classical literature and the bollywood film genre, as seen in films such as ‘Bride and Prejudice’. This new cross-cultural sub-genre is flourishing. Birmingham, home of Sampad has embraced it, and the cultural juxtaposition proposed by Sampad’s "Dido and Aeneas" is unremarkable in its context of Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park.
This year’s annual dance, music and drama extravaganza used Purcell’s "Dido and Aeneas" as its framework and Bharata Natyam, Kathak and Indian folk dances as a new lens with which to re-view the work. If this was an attempt to bring together crossover arts and/or cultural audiences, there are few places outside of Birmingham where this is more unnecessary. On the other hand, the performance provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the type of exchange that occurs within the city on a daily basis, as well as placing it in the fitting setting of an outdoor amphitheatre.
There were very few deviations from the traditional storyline from Virgil’s "Aenead", with dancers mirroring through movement the voices of their dancer doppelgangers throughout (choreographed by Piali Ray). Remarkably, the Fates or Furies were portrayed as green-faced witches led by a cloak-wielding Sorcerer (Kali Dass). And, these dancers in many ways stole the show. Their scary expressions, interaction with the audience (such as entering the stage area by descending through the audience seating) and bizarre costumes somewhat detracted the attention away from the main theme of heartbreak and lingering anguish.
Stars of the UK Asian dance scene, Shane Shambu as Aeneas and Sonia Sabri as Dido, portrayed their characters within a distinct realm of refined gesture, understated expression and physical geometry. The arrival of the Furies interrupted the classical outlook and took the show into the realm of pantomime, filling the space with faux-frightening antics and intentionally erratic and improvised choreography. These characters were well received by the family-oriented audience and came across as loveable rogues rather than threats to the laws of the universe.
Much more a matter for concern was the danger that at times Belinda (danced by Seeta Patel) might completely overshadow her love-forsaken best friend. This was not only due to her taller physical stature, but also through the uplifting clarity of her succinct and emotionally charged codified Bharata Natyam hand gestures and lyrical folk-inspired steps as she acted as both Cupid between the two lovers and as interlocutor to the drama. Sabri’s Dido was a temperamental, troubled and care worn woman-warrior, pacing sulkily to and fro; but it was not always clear within the choreography what might be the cause of her sense of gloom and foreboding. Overall the choreography supported the score with a series of solo, duet and group dances, and acted as a pleasing visual accompaniment to an excellent performance of Purcell’s score by both singers and orchestra (conducted by Paul Herbert).
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