An unlikely amalgamation of South Asian Bharata Natyam, ballet and contemporary dance is used in Akademi's 'Songs of the City' to capture the multiculturalism of London.
Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Bengali poet and artist, first wrote about multicultural London back in the late 1800s. On the 150th anniversary of his birth, London is more diverse than ever, and the poems translated and used in 'Songs of the City' resonate now as they did then.
Choreographer Ash Mukherjee creates a very modern dance work that draws on the notion of pluralism in a fast-paced city but nevertheless evokes the storytelling and symbolic traditions of South Asian dance. He also plays with dance stereotypes; you wouldn't have placed each dancer in the style they execute here with such precision.
Bharata Natyam is laced with sharp, intricate gestures that could easily jar with the fluidity of contemporary or the softness of ballet, but as the central figure in a tug-of-war between romanticism and realism, dancer Kamala Devam's razor sharp movement is exquisite. In moments of pause you can literally see sweat-steam rising from her in the chilly and atmospheric tunnels of the London Bridge vaults (tip: whatever the weather, take a jumper).
Haunting live clarinet and live vocals synthesise with the dancers and the projected film that sporadically plays on the brick walls and floor. You will see flashes of chaotic city life mix with the internal quiet that city-dwellers need to establish to maintain their balance. There is also conflict arising from the plethora of people, cultures and lifestyles. It is startling to stop and acknowledge that present-day Londoners aren't all that different from those hundreds of years ago - chaos reigns supreme, as always.
We were attended the press preview on 3 August.