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Bytom Festival

Dipisha Patel - 'Migrant Voices'

by Stuart Sweeney

July 10, 2006 -- Bytom, Poland

Every festival has its ups and downs and disputes concerning the success or otherwise of the works presented. So it was a happy day when Dipisha Patel brought her 15-minute solo, “Migrant Voices”, to the 2006 Bytom Festival, as there was general agreement about her excellent performance.

Dipisha Patel is an accomplished exponent of the classical form, bharatanatyam, and one of the new generation of Indian dancers born in the UK. Her technique is a wonder, but what makes her particularly interesting is that she takes advantage of the freedoms offered by the UK to experiment with fresh ideas: she told me this would not be so easy elsewhere. For instance, one feature in this work is the abandonment of traditional costume for a simple, but attractive jacket and trousers and a headband, with the result that we see the line and movements more clearly than usual.

Further, rather than taking her story from ancient Hindu texts, she and choreographer Debbie Fionn-Barr draw on the experiences of immigrants to the UK; a series of photographs, assembled by Paul Inman, are displayed on a simple screen at the rear of the stage, showing South Asians in England, perhaps family members. The dance steps are primarily pure bharatanatyam with a few additional gestures and moves. In the opening sequence, the concerns of these new arrivals are shown through Dipisha's worried expressions and arms sometimes stretching upwards, perhaps yearning for a lost homeland.

A second section depicts conversations illustrated by gestures such as fingers to the lips and then reaching outwards or an ear cocked for some new gossip. In the final sequence, we see images of the faces of children from the second generation of immigrants and an acceptance of the new land and their place within it. It reminded me of the priority given to schooling, with the result that the educational attainment of children from the UK's Indian community is now higher than that of the indigenous population.

Tom Simonauer's attractive and tuneful music is a hybrid of Indian and western styles, using a small harp and tabla, but the crowning glory of the work is Dipisha Patel's dancing. With a back ramrod straight and executing elegant pliés, the similarities of bharatanatyam to another classical form, ballet, can be clearly seen. The Indian style excels with exquisite hands, sometimes flat, sometimes splayed out or rapidly flexing in mime gestures. Her arms thrust out forwards, to the sides and upwards, sharp as a blade and hops and short jumps are executed with great precision. Despite her diminutive size, her stamping, with no ankle bells to interfere with the music, is clear and forceful. Above all, intelligence and humanity shine out through her dancing. She told me that she plans to mount an evening length triple bill, adding a classical dance in traditional costume and another work with a contemporary theme – I can't wait.

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