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About the Elephant

Vidya Patel and Connor Scott 

Sunday 6 May 2018

Alchemy Festival, Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London

Reviewed by Sanjeevini Dutta

Vidya Patel and Scott Connor, finalists on BBC Young Dancer 2015, provide a living proof of the creative explosion that an encounter between dancers of two genres can produce. The duet which gave the show’s title, About the Elephant, commissioned by Sampad Arts was preceded by solos from each of the collaborators, the third being flautist and composer Shammi Pithia.

The evening opened with Vidya Patel’s solo, appropriately, a fragment titled ‘The Beginning’.  The figure of the dancer in a simple blue dress with minimum adornment, hands at chest level, the horizontal against the upright stance, appears to hover, like a shimmering presence. As she raises her arms, led by exquisite hands and wrists like rippling water, Vidya establishes the basic kathak stances and lines. The contrasts with quicker, brisker movements and sharp turn of head provide energy and variety. The weight and clarity of footwork are as delightful to the ear as for the eye. Sujata Banerjee has honed her choreography to a fine balance of constituent parts: the stillness versus rapid travel, the exploration of angles and the coverage of space, the change of dynamics all made the opening solo faultless. The surety and unfussiness of movement make it a very satisfying piece, enhanced by a dancer whose serene aura, fluid movements and exquisite grace, are a gift to kathak. Also noticeable is Vidya’s honest and open gaze with no affectation. So refreshing.

Connor Scott is liquid mercury in his self -choreographed solo, BE. He has springs in his body that can throw energy and retract at astonishing speeds, like the swords of ribbon steel. The back flips, the front crawls, the swivelling to rise from floor supported by one arm is breath taking in its smoothness. Yet he is not technique alone, this is a thinking dancer. BE has an unspoken menace, with image the brutality and violence we have come to associate with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The solo is again perfectly judged with spaces to breathe before the next heart stopping lunge or flip.

There is a flute solo between the two dance halves, and the culmination is a twenty-six- minute duet, About the Elephant. In the Q&A, Scott eloquently described it as a piece about things that are bigger than you and that you have no control over’. The dancers face each other upstage, they circle each other, arms below and above. Arms and hands are suggestive of an elephant’s trunk, establishing the title. There are suggestions of eyes being covered, mouths silenced and gazes averted. The classically trained and contemporary share vocabulary, Vidya goes down to the floor and Connor attempts footwork, but neither looks ill at ease. Vidya’s movements have equal fluidity to Connors her plies are as deep and her extensions as stretched. The lifts are exciting and skilfully done. In the contact work they are equal partners. There is fluidity, synchronisation and harmony between Vidya and Scott, which show the trust and respect between them. It is beautiful to watch.

An effective soundtrack by Shammi Pithia could be further enhanced by a lower register instrument like cello, double bass or sarod to add texture to the flute and percussion. This is still a new work and by judicious editing, it can have the same sparseness and directness of the solos. The dancing is sumptuous, only the structure of the sections could have greater distinctiveness. But these are small niggles in the larger scheme of a first joint choreography by two dancers still under twenty-five. The pair have made an exciting start.