There comes a time when we humans have to come to grips with the worst parts of ourselves and our fellow man. When we do, it’s going to be unpleasant at best, devastating at worst. When artists make attempts at grappling with the dark nature of humankind, the result can be difficult to watch. This much can be said of Aditi Mangaldas’s Within, which was performed as part of Perth International Arts Festival’s opening weekend.
Within is a dance work in two parts: Knotted, which is contemporary dance based on Kathak featuring recorded music composed by Ish Shehrawat and diFfuSed, and Unwrapped, a more traditional Kathak dance featuring live music on stage. There are common threads that link the two pieces together, but they are fundamentally different in tone and outlook.
Knotted, the more dark, disturbing and uncomfortable of the two works, is very hard going. Mangaldas drew on a few sources that brought up a lot of inner turmoil for her when creating this piece. The material that I as a spectator immediately connected to Knotted, prior to having read her choreographer’s notes, was the Nirbhaya case, and indeed Mangaldas says that this, along with other ideas, “[has] become the subterranean stream that feeds the work.”
I will refrain from discussing the disturbing particulars of the Nirbhaya case further, and will leave it up to the uninformed reader to follow up on his or her own, should the name be unfamiliar. However, it is very apparent through the movement, staging and scenography (stage design, Manish Kansara and lighting design Fabiana Piccioli) of Knotted that this was a particularly strong influence. We are submerged in a hellish womb or cave-like space, barely lit, from which the dancers appear to wish to escape.
They fuse kathak and contemporary dance, remaining largely disconnected from one another throughout, save for a few episodes of simulated violence towards each other. They end up writhing together in the middle of the stage, bodies rolling over one another, completely defeated and mostly lifeless. It is extremely strenuous to watch. I could not help but be deeply relieved when the piece was over. It takes an emotional toll.
Unwrapped is markedly more hopeful in tone, although it isn’t altogether devoid of bleakness. The troupe is joined on stage by musicians: Mohit Gangani on Tabla, Faraz Ahmed on vocals and harmonium, Ashish Gangani on Pakhawaj, and Amir Khan on Sarangi. The dance is more traditional, as they use their bell-clad feet in a percussive, musical way, and perform lengthy spins in formation.
Mangaldas herself features prominently in Unwrapped, reciting spoken lines from Lal Ded, a female Kashmiri poet, and eventually performing a lengthy solo. She’s a mesmerising performer, and her solo is delicate and re-energising – she appears to float effortlessly around the stage, her arms like bird wings.
Within is difficult, but important in its cultural scope. Mangaldas uses her art to express the pain, sadness and renewal that can come from going within ourselves and facing the darkness that lies inside.
Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company and The Drishtikon Dance Foundation
Creator and Choreographer Aditi Mangaldas
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 11 – 14 February 2016
Tickets: $85 – $25
2016 Perth International Arts Festival