Kathak Box 1st March 2012 Pegasus Theatre Oxford
Last night a diverse audience of students, dancers and general public of all ages and sizes piled into the gorgeous Pegasus Theatre to watch Sonia Sabri company perform Kathakbox.
The set was bleak, a bare brick wall and the black floor had a grid of sharp lines taped upon it.a series of boxes no less. As the lights came up all performers entered a box. This was their space whether or not they had chosen to be placed there. Kathakbox is an exploration of box ticking and defining. In the first section we here a superb tirade of questions regarding which box should you tick:” Black, White, Asian, British, Mixed origin, Chinese, Bob Marley….? And what happens if you don’t feel or believe that you fit into any o f these boxes? What happens if you firmly fit but want to mix with the other boxes, culturally, socially or artistically? The questions were firmly planted in the first 10 minutes of the show and what followed was a fascinating journey. The company was courageous in its study of what could be a political correctness minefield, they acknowledged competitiveness, a sense of territory and conflict but embraced it with humour and softness around the edges. It still felt gritty but as an audience member you soon felt safe that the company were not going to divide you, or isolate you with political opinions.
Of the 7 performers 3 were musicians / speakers. They were integrated beautifully and the strength of their work meant that the value of the vocal work, the exceptional awe-inspiring skill was equal to that of the dancing. They could easily hold their own sections without the dancers. During these moments we heard tabla vox mixed with rap, with beatbox, with gorgeous Asian singing, with poetry and with breath. It was a sumptuous mixture and for me never lost its fascination.
This was Kathak with a clear contemporary edge. The dancing was superb. It gave weight to all styles of dance involved (Kathak, street dance, contemporary, break dancing). The group of teenage students around me were as wowed by the spins of the Kathak dancer as there were by the exquisite breakdancing. The moments of fusion were pretty much seamless and by all accounts nearly all of the dancers looked as at home in one style as another. But what was really stunning about this piece, and relating to my previous point, was the way in which the piece truly acknowledged the strengths of its company. Without feeling as though the dancers were limited, their areas of strength were defined and celebrated. Although dancers Sonia Sabri and Nathan Geering carried a larger percentage of the physical material, Amayra Fuller and Suzanne Grubham were equally vital and enriching to the performance.
It’s hard to pick a moment that really stands out for all of the reasons that I have mentioned BUT… Nathan Geering’s duet with his shadow (excellently lit – it is so easy to get this slightly wrong!) was as moving a piece of dance as I have ever seen. His long limbs then exaggerated in the shadow wove a beautiful pattern and the use of facial shapes and expressions lent a human element (so engaging) to the section.
This was a performance of sections and though some were slightly repetitive it was continuously punctuated with humour, narrative and surprise. The structuring and choreography plus the commitment to each culturally inspired aspect of the evening meant that this was an uplifting and inspiring evening for all.