PLAY BALL by SRISHTI Dance Company

The Place Theatre, London
11 April 2008

(A version of this review was published in The Independent on 18 April 2008)

Play Ball is an evening of laddishness in dance. The three works devised by the artistic director, Nina Rajarani, cover the themes of football, love and cut-throat business. It is the last piece, Quick!, which won the choreographer the Place Prize in 2006 and I saw this electrifying dance performance as part of the Firsts programme at the Royal Opera House where it stood out as the crowd-pleaser of the evening, among other contemporary presentations in a variety of styles. I was keen to see what else the company had to offer and if its other work matched up to the sheer dramatic force of Quick!

Srishti concentrates on the Bharatanatyam style of South Asian dance accompanied mostly by Karnatic music. Bharatanatyam is an unusual medium to explore Lads Culture as this traditional dance is typically feminine and performed mostly by women. It is rare and enjoyable to see male dancers make the form their own, as they do in the choreography here.
Bend it… the first piece opens with the dancers and the on-stage musicians — the vocalist, violinist, flautist and percussionist – all in football kit. The dancing is strong and rhythmic but almost too graceful to fully conjure up the fervour of the football field. In the ‘half-time’ episode a female dancer attired as a shiny green peacock appears. She is, in effect, a cheerleader urging the audience to clap and join in with a rendition of a made-up football song. The audience tries to participate enthusiastically, but the overall impression I have is that some really good concepts have not reached full fruition. The peacock interlude is meant to be an extremely odd contrast to the testosterone of the game, and it certainly is. But it puzzles rather than grips the imagination.

Chemistry, the second piece, is billed as a lovers’ reunion after a tiff and depicts the softer side of men. This gently-paced duet, danced in a circle of pink light, gets off to a sweet start with the performers in harmony in their facial expressions, arm movements and those important, though infinitesimally small, head movements. The male dancer, Sooraj Subramaniam, is an absolute joy to watch in his fluid interpretation of the choreography. Towards the middle of the piece the work descends into clichéd, overly-romantic gestures and it’s a shame that the choreography doesn’t quite match the emotional intensity of the singing and the music. The highlight of Chemistry is the deeply moving vocal accompaniment, composed and sung faultlessly by Y. Yadavan.

The show ends with Quick!, which is, once again, a riot of perfect synchronisation, if I can be forgiven the oxymoron. This piece of vitality, vigour and humour is a showcase for the astonishingly fast-paced footwork of the four male dancers and is deservedly the ultimate crowd pleaser. The vocals and visuals both worked wonderfully well to complement the manic theme, particularly the visual sequence of the Bharatanatyam dancers in suits and ties going up and down a glass lift in the City. Quick! sent the audience off with energy springing in their steps.

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