Roland Auzet and Arushi Mudgal in SAMA
Experimental Theater at the National Theater, Taipei
March 19, 2016
Percussion is becoming something of a theme in this year’s dance presentations at TIFA. There was more of it in SAMA, a collaboration between two artists of very different backgrounds: noted odissi dancer, Arushi Mudgal, and French composer, percussionist and theatre director, Roland Auzet.
‘Sama’ means a state of equilibrium or balance, and it is certainly true that the two art forms do come to that position over the course of the work’s sixty minutes or so. At first there’s a sense that Auzet is sounding Mudgal out. Both seem intrigued by the other, but she in particular seems wary as she dances to his beat.
Like all building relationships there are moments of agreement and disagreement, of accord and discord, of frustration and satisfaction. Slowly and surely, the two come to appreciate each other. The relationship between the two performers and the two art forms building to a point where they harmonise and come together as equals to form something interesting and new.
Mudra (stamping) is an important component of odissi and much of the dialogue takes place between the sounds made by Mudgal’s feet and that created by Auzet. As the evening progresses, the conversation gets increasing playful. Sometimes it’s fun to watch, as in a pas de six of sorts between Auzet’s two hands and two feet, and Mudgal’s feet, all lined up in a row like six dancers. But better still, we see that they are having fun too. The longer it goes on, the more the music and dance become like a joust between two great friends.
Long-haired and gently graceful, Mudgal is a remarkable dancer. Dressed in a turquoise tunic, she also has wonderful stage presence. Her technique is mesmerising. The first things that strike one are her incredibly expressive hands and forearms. In her opening dance they have a marvellous lightness whether beating gently like birds on the wing, or simply floating in the air. Her wrists can twist and turn in ways that seem barely possible.
While it has much in common with other classical Indian dances, odissi is a particularly sensuous form. There’s much curvaceous use of the torso, and we see that increasingly as SAMA goes on, and especially in the wonderful upbeat final dance.
Auzet does create sound with the palms of his hand and his feet, but it’s his finger percussion that is particularly memorable. His digits move with the lightning speed of a top pianist playing a fast, complex. It’s perhaps at its best in a duet in which she sings and he drums – at first in turn as if the pair are having a conversation, and then later together in harmony.
To say that Auzet merely provides musical accompaniment for Mudgal is to oversimplify things, though. He is very much part of the action. His drumming is played out on the various bespoke musical instruments and geometric shapes dotted around the stage. Every now and then he shifts something, more than once sending it crashing to the stage with a resounding bang. Each object brings new tones, percussion from a new perspective. There’s a huge 10-foot rain stick (a rain log is perhaps a better term), and best of all a giant wooden wheel that rolls on from the wings, strange sounds emanating from within. After it arrives, Mudgal stands in it as if it was some chunky circus cyr wheel, but her demeanour is almost one of regality; she is queen of this domain.
There are times when the dialogue falls away and the attention drifts, and while Auzet’s percussion is unusually made, I’m not entirely convinced it’s as contemporary as is made out. Still, the end of SAMA is worth waiting for. Auzet forms the various blocks into s stage on which Mudgal dances to a mix of contemporary recorded music and his live drumming and voice. Her dance is expansive as if some freedom has been found. It is a real East meets West moment. What is striking is how well the two go together. Different, yes; mutually exclusive, definitely no.