For one night only, Dulwich Picture Gallery presented Ragamala Remixed, a late-night opening of the Ragamala and Van Dyck in Sicily exhibitions with “a little bit extra”. The “extra” came in the form of live dance and music performances from young people to semi-professional artists – the evening had an inclusive, participatory focus which certainly managed to draw in the crowds which was, perhaps, surprising considering the location. The venue seemed a little off the beaten track, surrounded by lush leafy-green lanes and the sun went down as a local cricket team played. Fifteen minutes ago we were in Victoria, suddenly a rural feeling like that of a village.
So Ragamala, “what’s that all about?” I hear you cry. Well, let me explain. A ragamala is a set of miniature paintings which represent ragas, the melodic scales of classical Indian music, by capturing the mood that they are associated with. Often accompanied with text or poetry, these intricate paintings date back to the royal courts of India in the late 1400s and yet here we are at a gallery in Dulwich in the year 2012. This is the first time the show has been unveiled in the UK, and the 24-strong collection has been exhibited from 25 January until 27 May, hence the closing event.
As well as catching the exhibition on one of its final days, Ragamala Remixed, featured living works of art in the form of installation pieces in the exquisite rooms of the Gallery. To begin, Iris Chan, a young artist trained in contemporary and kathak dance, performed two pieces – one, the Rubai, was in nritya, or narrative form, and the second was a Malkauns Tarana, a nritta, or pure dance form. Chan looked serene, stunning, almost regal in her costume of ivory white with gold edging. She gave a performance that was technically secure and the happiness in her dancing shone through. She also did a spectacular job at keeping in time with the music, she was competing with an erratic sound-system but, thankfully, she won.
A little later, a trio of female kathak dancers from Shamaa Dance Company who presented a Tarana as choreographed by Sushma Mehta, the Creative Director of the company. After the serenity of the independent artist, it was lovely to see another side of kathak – the striking formations and vibrant energies of three women in brightly-coloured costumes. Whilst there was an abundance of energy and enthusiasm the piece lacked a little control.
Wrapping things up, beatboxer/vocal sculptor/sound artist, Jason Singh and Classical Indian vocalist, Ranjana Ghatak, who have worked with a youth group from Fairbridge for a week-long residency creating a soundscape inspired by the Ragamala exhibition. The artists wonderful energy encouraged the young performers to come out of their shells for this unique performance opportunity and a piece of great depth and insight arose before our very eyes. The pair dazzled on their own too, with Singh’s phenomenal speed, agility and resourcefulness which complimented Ghatak’s honey-glazed tone.