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Pravaas- Akademi

Pravaas- Akademi,
Drummond Street, London,
29 July 2023

Reviewed by the Pulse dance audience club

The props, the costumes and the movement of the protagonists vividly evoked the journey of members of a fishing community from a happy way of life to the loss of it: we saw them preparing their boats, casting their nets, returning home, enjoying their time together in a playful way; but then being driven from home, picking up their belongings and having to leave that life behind, the world they had known dismantled and gone.

As they continued on their way, we saw them struggling with the elements and the lack of food. Their interaction with the audience effectively drew spectators in as participants, and the picture of people on the move was a reminder of so many images with which we are familiar: in the past, driven by war and conflict; now, also because of climate change. Those standing on the kerb felt the connection with the players as they were offered small gifts, and then discomfort and hesitation, watching while being asked for help, rather as we do when passing homeless people on the pavement.

The movement down the streets was skilfully choreographed. The bamboo poles and nylon nets were taken apart and came to represent their possessions, symbols of what they had lost, and of the burden they bore. The sound systems, covered in jute bags on wooden crates, became a part of their belongings, dragged behind them. Sometimes those carrying the poles – including members of audience who were invited to join and help them – seemed like pall-bearers; and in the last section of the journey, the carriage of the poles, in the shape of crosses, being dragged down the street, recalled the Stations of the Cross, the processional Via Crucis.

We were somewhat surprised, though perhaps relieved, to see a happy ending, as a safe haven is found at last, and the protagonists feel able to dance and play again. The last stage of their journey leads to a hoped-for future.

Swati Seshadri’s solo voice at the start worked well, and we enjoyed it throughout, but the music track when it came in did not feel appropriate.  The sets and costumes effectively brought Bangladesh and the Sundarbans to mind, and some regional music might also have used to reflect this. This would have felt more emotionally and aesthetically satisfying. The protagonists moved well – they are dancers – but the dance sections did not feel fully integrated into the narrative.

Despite these reservations, Pravaas is a valuable project. Theatre, dance and street art can bring urgent themes into our midst. This production reminded us that we are in fact not just bystanders, but share in the crisis facing us. This cannot be expressed too often. 

Credits: Choreography by Vidya Patel, Artistic Direction by Suba Subramaniam, featuring dance artists Aishani Ghosh, Mithun Gill, Shree Savani and vocal artist Swati Seshadri.

Pravaas continues its tour in August and September. Details here.