‘How many of you are familiar with the terminology of juggling?’
‘Yeah! We’ve got some jugglers in the house! What about south Asian dance fans, who knows the lexicon of the classical Indian arts?’
‘Wow, there’s more than I would have thought!’
Writing about dance and circus involves technical language. Unlike physical theatre or drama, these practices often seem to be governed by coda; knowing what to describe as a three-throw pattern and a mudra, or correctly pronouncing Bharatanatyam. I could not my raise my hand to either of Sean Gandini’s queries in the post-show Q&A of Sigma, the latest in a series of ‘in depth dialogues between art forms’ from Gandini Juggling. So, what can I tell you about his collaboration with choreographer Seeta Patel?
Ok, let’s start with rhythms.
With feet slapping against the floor, Patel and Indu Panday move though cadences, their bodies at once dancer and instrument. The thud of balls, unseen, hit the interior of the upturned boxes our jugglers stand in. Let’s listen to the pulsations overlapping in waves with Panday’s counted beats creating a remarkable layering. It’s hypnotic, ritualistic, something impossible and mesmeric.
Let’s talk about the push and pull.
The performer’s differing proficiencies illuminate each other. A single ball, passed between Patel’s hands makes us scrutinize the pinpoint precision of her emotive gestures. By having to balance the movements of their dancers and numerous flying balls, the concentration of Kim Huynh and Kati Yiä Hokkla is so amplified, it seems to radiate from them. But the performers don’t always work in perfect harmony, often they are split into a Jets and the Sharks rivalry, circus pitted against classical. They are playground opponents, pulling faces, sneering and challenging each other in their skills. Go on then, go further, show us what you can do.
Let’s expose the mechanics.
There is an important role for specialized language, using the correct words for what you see and what is being done to negotiate our intentions and interpretations. But it should be there to clarify rather than mystify. Lyn Gardner’s recent comments on Cirque de Soleil’s Ovo being ‘5 star performers trapped in 2-star concept’ demonstrated what can go wrong with too much smoke and mirrors. In Sigma, made in just 4 weeks (!!!), the heart is on display. Lydia Cawson’s costumes play with this exposure, revealing and concealing the face, the body, in layers of both wispy and structured fabrics. Seeing the strings of a production is not the same as a minimalist, ‘empty stage’* it’s an understanding of what will emphasize that moment without masking it. Like how here, the Rorschach projections exaggerate how the dancing and juggling seem to require an impossible number of arms to perform. But a section of ring-tossing** with gratuitous light display is too reminiscent of Chessington’s bubbleworks ride, or maybe, a migraine.
The performers start and end the show stating their aims and evaluations. ‘I hope this show will have some laughs… I wish this show had had a wheel of death’. They tell us their lineage, opening the box of worms as to their authenticity; Patel asks, ‘If none of your dancers were born in India, can you still call it Indian dance?’
I have no idea, I am the wrong person to answer this question. I just want them to do it all again.
*No such thing… but that’s a rant for another time. Probably for Edinburgh when I might get flyers made.
** Told you I didn’t know the vocabulary.
Sigma was performed as part of the London International Mime Festival 2018, running until 5 February 2018. Click here for more details.