“I was walking down Oxford Street a couple of weeks later, and there was Talvin Singh crossing the road. I don’t usually go up to people in the street, but I thought: this would be a missed opportunity!”
Chance or destiny? Mayuri Boonham, one half of dance duo Angika, had been thinking about a musical collaborator for their new project Pulse of Tala. “What about Talvin?” suggested her dance partner Subathra Subramaniam. Mercury-Award winning, chart-busting, groundbreaking, breakbeating and musician and DJ: Talvin Singh. And now, neatly bypassing the convoluted and lengthy process of communicating via managers and agents, Boonham was chatting with Singh in Oxford Street. And he said yes.
A training in classical Indian art – Singh’s in tabla playing, and Boonham and Subramaniam in Bharata Natyam – alongside a particular British Asian sensibility, is perhaps the common ground between the three. Like Singh, the dancers respect the traditions of their training while also being interested in how they can evolve. In Pulse of Tala their focus is on rhythm – Singh’s musical home ground – as they experiment with the time, energy and effort of classical Bharata Natyam, seeing how phrases can pulse like a heartbeat, or cycle in and out of phase.
Pulse of Tala is the latest in a series of works that Angika have created since the company was formed in 1997. The two dancers met while training in Bharata Natyam under Shri Prakash Yadagudde at London’s Bhavan Centre, and quickly realised that they shared a similar outlook: how to extend the boundaries of Bharata Natyam from within its own aesthetic tradition, rather than by fusing or mixing it with other styles.
Angika’s first piece, Sudarshana, performed in the 1998 Resolution! season, was based on the idea of the seven chakras, represented through the emotionally expressive abhinaya aspect of Bharata Natyam. It was received extremely well, and the two were invited to become Associate Artists at The Place as a result.
The following year they made Kala, based on an idea of time. This more abstract, contemporary-looking work was set to an eclectic musical score that included funky, synthesised and jazzy sounds strung together by the sound of the traditional mridangam drum. Both dancers felt that Kala had pushed forward the boundaries of the Bharata Natyam form, and for their next piece The Triple Hymn (2000) they were happier to take a step back into less edgy, more classical territory.
you don’t have to know your chakras from your chuddies to appreciate the dances.
The Triple Hymn was motivated by the Hindu gayatri mantra. Sudarshana had the chakras, while Pulse of Tala was inspired by a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. But you don’t have to know your chakras from your chuddies to appreciate the dances.
“The concept is really a personal thing between us and the collaborators,” explains Boonham. “What we really want is for people to come and see it as a dance piece. Not for people to worry about what it all means. Don’t worry about gestures, don’t worry about meanings, just come and enjoy some dance.”