Exploring the self: Inter_rupted by Aditi Mangaldas

Barbican, London
October 20, 2016

David Mead

Aditi Mangaldas is a bit of a dance maverick. While much of her work falls into the category of classical kathak (as with all ‘classical’ dance, how that is defined is open to debate), her fusing of that with all that is contemporary has a tendency to infuriate the purists and has brought more than a few comments back home in India.

Her latest work, Inter_rupted, certainly melds elements of kathak tradition and contemporary dance and theatre design. Mangaldas clearly respects those traditions and where they came from, but equally recognises that they are not static. They change and evolve to meet changing tastes and demands. Indeed, if they are to remain relevant, one can argue they must change. Traditions that do not do so can easily become dead traditions.

Besides being superbly danced, Inter_rupted is visually stunning. Delhi-based stage designer Manish Kansara’s fabric ‘walls’ back and sides have the look of light-coloured wood and are littered with various marks. shapes and designs. Japanese film and theatre costume designer Kimie Nakano earthy dust coloured costumes sit very pleasantly against them. Best though are the shadowy, projected human shapes that appear from time to time, perhaps memories of the past, perhaps spirits watching. The latter certainly seems to apply to the Anthony Gormley-like figure, the only one that is solid.

Aditi Mangaldas in Inter_ruptedPhoto Foteini Christofilopoulou
Aditi Mangaldas in Inter_rupted
Photo Foteini Christofilopoulou

An awareness of the vulnerabilities of the body is something that comes to all of us, but perhaps dancers and sportspeople more than most. It is certainly something Mangaldas, now 56, says she is becoming increasingly aware of, not that you would notice any from her stellar performance on stage. The programme notes talk about the fragility, disintegration, resilience, vulnerability, inevitability and renewal of the body. As the body disintegrates, where do emotions and thoughts reside? Where does the self go? And what happens when the body is gone from the world?

All big questions, and all difficult to convey answers to on stage, at least with any clarity. For all the glorious dancing and staging, and as fascinating as the work is, and while Mangaldas may answer them in her own mind, at first sight those answers only occasionally crossed the footlights. Perhaps this is one of those dances that needs time to sink in though because, musing afterwards, the fog did start to lift.

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter_ruptedPhoto Foteini Christofilopoulou
Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter_rupted
Photo Foteini Christofilopoulou

As a whole, Inter_rupted does struggle for coherence, though. The eight scenes do not always fit together. But then again, thoughts are often fragmentary, and if the dance is seen as a reflection of life being interrupted by thoughts, maybe that is appropriate. The title is also a very good description of the choreography. There are certainly plenty of memorable scenes. It opens with a body increasingly quivering, disintegrating. And suddenly it’s gone. A woman slithers backwards across the floor, dragging a mass of black cloth that looks like a sea of hair, before gathering it in. It’s beautiful and hypnotic. And again, suddenly, she’s gone.

Fragments of life (and indeed the nature of life to some extent) are represented by dice being rolled. Hands seem to cradle something precious, memories, moments, thoughts perhaps. Gestures are full of detail. Out of nowhere come faster sections marked by spins and athletic floor rolls. They disappear just as quickly, as if someone has thrown a switch. Fragile sections are hard up against powerful ones, the contemporary moments sitting very comfortably alongside the kathak ones. Later sections feature nritta, the dance full of the expected sharp, percussive footwork, rhythmic patterns and the joy of movement. Is this dance perfection the height of aspiration?

Appearing among this energy is the calmer Mangaldas, looking for something, answers perhaps. But even she cannot avoid being interrupted and affected by happenings around her. She is a remarkable presence, perhaps no more so that towards the end when she walks slowly around the shadowy projections, which disappear as she touches them. They are as if ephemeral, transitory. But that, and the end that follows, suggest Mangaldas starting to come to peace with herself, her body, her thoughts.

A fascinating evening, and certainly dance worth catching.

Inter_rupted is at the Barbican until October 22, then on tour to The Lowry, Salford (www.thelowry.com); Curve, Leicester (www.curveonline.co.uk); and Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (www.warwickartscentre.co.uk).

Running time: 75 minutes with no interval.