Dance and archive film come together in a tale of the ultimate sacrifice: Akademi’s The Troth

Hepburn House (Army@TheFringe), Edinburgh
August 14, 2018

David Mead

Conceived by Akademi’s director Mira Kaushik and dedicated to the 60,000 Indian soldiers who gave their lives fighting in World War I, The Troth tells the story of Lehna Singh, and the sacrifice he makes to keep a secret promise to someone he loved when younger. Based on Chandradhar Sharma Guleri’s Hindi short story Usne Kaha Tha and told through dance and evocative archive film from the Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum, it’s a powerful tale of love, camaraderie, loss and sacrifice.

In opens in 1888 at a market in Amritsar. Even with just six dancers, choreographer Gary Clark does a good job at making it feel bustling and busy. In a contemporary take on local dance, the men leap energetically with each other and around Leela, performed by Vidya Patel.

When Lehna Singh (Subhash Viman Gorania) bumps into Leela, the mutual attraction is clear. Clarke passes up the opportunity for a duet, though, preferring to push on with the story. They meet again and again, he always asking her if she is betrothed. Eventually she tells him, “yes, to another.” Lehna and friends later join the British Army, the choreography making much of Army physical training and their friendship.

Akademi's The TrothPhoto Simon Richardson
Akademi’s The Troth
Photo Simon Richardson

Years later, as war is declared, Lehna and Leela, now married to an Army captain in the same regiment, meet again. With looks from both that suggest love unfulfilled, she begs him to look out her husband and son, Bodha, who are in the same regiment; the ‘troth’ of the title. Equally, she is loyal to her husband and in a scene full of anguish and with a face full of pleading she begs them not to go off to fight.

The chaos of the battlefield is shown well, including the horror of gas attacks but it’s the projected lines from letters home that paint the most vivid pictures of life and death. The words, “The memory becomes luminous just before death,” herald Lehha’s death, having given up a place in the ambulance for those he swore to protect. They also herald memories of the woman he loved but the wife he never had. It is quite heartrending.

Patel, a charismatic and elegant dancer with a beautiful upper body, expressive arms and fast-moving feet dominates every scene she is in. She and Gorania Singh are delightful as the shy young couple. He seems genuinely hurt when she reveals she is engaged. The other men, Daniel Hay-Gordon, Deepraj Singh, Dom Coffey and Songhay Toldon do sterling work as friends and army colleagues.

As eloquently as the dance mostly speaks, putting it against powerful archive film from colonial India and World War I is a battle almost no choreographer is going to win, however. The dance is invariably dominated by the footage, even the silent cinema-style captions that are projected behind. Whether the harrowing film might be slightly less overriding in a larger venue, it’s hard to say, but several times it was all that my eyes were interested in. That’s unfortunate.

The soundscape by Shri Sriram is an evocative pulling together of Indian folk music, military band arrangements and sounds from the First World War.

It may be set a century ago and more, but this story of love and sacrifice is timeless. Choreographically, it is well told and superbly danced. The projections help give The Troth time and place but I do wish they weren’t quite so dominant.

Hepburn House, venue for Army@TheFringe is a little out of the way, around 20 minutes walk (downhill!) from the New Town, or take the bus. It’s well worth the effort!

Akademi present The Troth at Hepburn House (Army@The Fringe), 89 East Claremont Street, Edinburgh to August 25. For details and tickets visit