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Poem of Rua, Abandhana, Manifiesta

Divya Ravi, Marta Guerra Doblas (Dobladanza) and Matthew Howard at Resolution 24

Divya Ravi, Marta Guerra Doblas (Dobladanza) and Matthew Howard,

6th February 2024

Resolution Festival,

The Place, London

This was an evening of contrasting experiences – by turns enigmatic, moving and exuberant – that together made an enjoyable and well-curated whole. It encompassed eastern and western, classical and contemporary, profound professionalism and youthful energy.


Poem of Rua by Matthew Howard

The tableau-like presentation was visually arresting: two shapes, a little like pawns in a chess set (reminiscent of Oskar Shlemmer at the Bauhaus), robed in white, on a white circle, with a deep and rather threatening electronic soundscape. The head-dresses hiding the faces from view seemed a combination of a fringed lamp-shade and chef’s hat with a pom pom, although the effect, ultimately, was mysterious rather than comic. As the figures moved in the swirling, smoky, marbling light patterns, sometimes in unison, sometimes separately, revealing little beneath kimonos and the head-dress, the sense was one of abstract fluidity, reminiscent of tai chi. The human dancing form once raised a leg high, once took a deep back bend, occasionally lifted arms above the head. At moments they held poses, as in the shape of crosses; and one section brought the sounds of the sea, with the light patterns like a rock pool. Was it more form than substance? Rather, the form was the substance, and it remained enigmatic.


Abandhana (‘Unfettered’), by Divya Ravi 

This was an exceptional piece, in which the dancer, musicians and poetry together communicated movingly the yearning and obstacles faced by the women on whose poetry the piece was based: Therigāthā (Songs of Theri-s) is an anthology of poems composed by Buddhist nuns in the sixth century BCE.

Abandhana worked on multiple levels simultaneously – the literal, physical and symbolic.

The structure is cyclical. The dancer (bharatanatyam artist and choreographer Divya Ravi), raises her arms in supplication and is drawn down a shaft of light towards the music of the cello and the cellist (Liz Hanks). Ravi wears a beatific smile as she approaches what she seeks – but she is knocked back by the sound of the konnakol, the vocal percussion (Prathap Ramachandra); she covers her mouth, her eyes, and is impelled to circle the two musicians who are set apart from the cellist on the stage, as she carries out what appear to be domestic tasks. With each revolution she moves faster and faster, in more and more desperation, until she drops.

She is repeatedly able to begin to move down the shaft of light, and is repeatedly pulled back: her wrists are bound, she has to pull her feet out of the mud (in Buddhist symbolism, the lotus rises from the mud). Towards the conclusion of the piece, she is trapped between the percussionist and the vocalist. The singing continues, but she hears the cello, echoing the sung music; and we end with hope that she will attain her desire as she moves again towards the cello music.

The dancer – dynamic, expressive – responds to the music; the music and sound represent what binds her and the enlightenment she seeks; the musicians themselves physically interact with her. The colours are integral, with the dancer, percussionist and vocalist in earthy, russet, colours, and the cellist in a yellow top with russet trousers – connected but apart, earthbound but with the possibility of moving beyond. The chanting and the hymns (beautifully sung by Sharan Subramanian) continue to resonate in one’s mind after the performance.


Manifiesta by Marta Guerra Doblas – Dobladanza

Manifiesta brought glitzy, dance floor dynamics – a youthful GenZ company having fun, until the music ends, everyone leaves but one remains, exhausted, half-stripped. Then, with the dancers changed out of the glittering clothes into coloured jackets, the piece moved to jokey-serious commentary on the lives of the young dancers and the realities (coding, retail), faced by those whose dream it is to dance. There was a cheeky reference to the first piece of the evening in the form of a lampshade on a dancer’s head. The interactive conclusion allowed the audience to join in the fun and incidentally provide a standing ovation at the end.


Resolution Festival 2024


With thanks to Shanti Rebello for sharing in the discussion.