Shane Shambhu Leaving Only a Trace
Divya Kasturi NoWhere
The Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The evening begins in a flurry of excitement as an unknown persona, masked, blinded, zombie-like, ambles onto a stage laden with cardboard boxes. Shane Shambhu’s Leaving Only a Trace has only just begun and the audience are immediately captured, causing my fellow audience members to comment on Shane’s “strong physical presence” on stage. After a dramatic entrance, the narrative structure sustains the energy that emanates from the stage space, pulling in the spectators like a vortex.
As both storyteller and protagonist, Shane takes us on a journey exploring the curiosities and conundrums of British South Asian identity. Set to the fast-paced dynamic sounds of Niraj Chag’s score, the now unmasked Shane bursts into a violent frenzy of frantic searching, measuring, gesturing, tossing aside and then recovering an abstract something – a schizophrenic rhapsody of the oppositional values within two warring internal identities. The same bharatanatyam mudras hand gestures return to him again and again, even when he tries to remove all trace of them. Try as you might, but it’s hard to let go of our nurtured cultural habits.
It is perhaps Shane’s dual identity that allows him to see past the boxes of identity to encompass the categories of artistic forms – bharatanatyam, theatre, music, comedy, or contemporary/traditional. He dances, acts, moves in and out of these forms as gracefully as he switches in and out of his cultural modes. As the soundtrack eventually shifts from the electronic jagged to the casual quotidian with radio commentary and correspondingly, Shane starts to shift from the cryptic dance to the recognizable acting. Gradually, a somewhat logical reality unfolds and we realize he is packing. Whether for work, for vacation, for university, or for the sake of, packing alludes to a process few in today’s world manage to avoid: that of moving out of one’s home.
Finally, the act crescendos into an organically lyrical love story with a mannequin that has been subtly escorted onto the stage by musicians Karthik Raghunathan and Pirashanna Thevarajah. The warm full tones of live music in Hindustani alaap and Carnatic mridangam compliment the romantic interlude depicting the courtship-heartbreak cycle of love through Shane’s contemporary bharatanatyam movement vocabulary and abhinaya.
Tired of being torn between his identities, Shane leaves the stage, a resolution that neither betrays himself nor his home. Instead of throwing away his cultural baggage or getting immobilized by it, he does what many of us in his position must do: internalize the best of our homes to venture bravely into the journey of self-discovery.
In the second half of the evening, Divya Kasturi’s piece NoWhere captures us with a place rather than a person as the color photo of a south Indian temple projected onto the stage slowly transforms into a black and white outline. This image is supplemented by the sound of murmured, almost undistinguishable chants to suggest the intimacy of personal prayer. After striking a new chord through the visual and audio, bold in black Divya begins her piece to the strings and piano by John Marc-Gowans. This first piece, characterized by a clean, purely technical, dynamic, neutral space with intricately woven bharatanatyam and kathak abstractions, is the first movement to a full choreographic concerto. Here, Divya’s playful rhythmic and melodic interactions with the score reveal the strong musicianship expected from a solid base in any solo classical Indian dance training. As the choreography develops, Divya begins to magically carve out her identities into particular places on the stage - a spotlight for abhinaya, a vertical beam for travel, or a division of the stage into two halves. Gradually, the stage space morphs into a geographical and emotional map of Divya’s identities.
Interestingly, her classical training resurfaces most succinctly not in her movements, but the way in which she organizes the piece with a precision that is reminiscent of the classical aesthetic. This is, however, punctuated by chaotic moments of originality where she explores different textures, tones, and imagery that stimulate the subconscious. The sound of rain and city landscapes paralleled with the intricacy of her interweaving hand gestures conjures deep memories of being lost in a city for the first time. The sound of Divya’s live melodious voice singing a sweet lullaby–like song evokes the feeling of childhood vulnerability. Having travelled across the various sound-dance-land-scapes, Divya finally returns to her first movement and concludes her journey by thanking an invisible crowd with handshakes and pranaams – the customary South Asian salutation of respect. This eloquently reminds us of how her geographical identities are inextricably linked to her identity as artist. Having travelled with her to places far and near, internal and external, we are left with a sense of “NoWhere” and “Now” “Here” in the ever present, as she walks off the stage.