The first time I saw Mayuri Boonham’s work I immediately liked it – very much so and, for me, it was the unexpected hit of the Royal Ballet’s Draft Works show last year. That was work created just after she had been chosen as an RB Choreographic Affiliate, but somehow I had missed Boonham’s many works and tours starting in the late 90s. She is Bharata Natyam trained and brings a very different outlook to what she does and how she uses ballet dancers (which she did on my first sighting). A year on and Boonham had her own night in the ROH Linbury comprising two pieces about creation viewed through a Hindu lens.
Ex Nihilo is inspired by the Hymn of Creation from the Rigveda and muses on creation from the very beginning; before anything as advanced as an atom or molecule was around. To underline the Big Bang approach the dance takes place in a sound installation by Bill Fontana, which includes a recording of electronic hissing from CERN’s LHC (Large Hadron Collider) – at least I think that was the recording. Boonham’s own company, ATMA Dance, provides the 7 dancers that toil beneath Guy Hoare’s light installation, comprising over 100 light bulbs on individual dimmers, which could also move physically up and down, while Fontana’s sounds bounced around speakers either side of the auditorium. If all the ingredients sounded interesting the actuality was much less so. We started with the dancers laying around and then slowly stirring, but how do you show bits of atoms interestingly? As dancers came together there were some sweet abstract moments, almost by chance, but they dissolved away as the piece meandered on to something else unfathomable. It didn’t seem to work as either knockout dance or as an overall spectacle that made you think. I did like the cow bells sounds, I have to say, which provided some amusement in an otherwise hard-pressed 50 minutes. Great dancers but a perplexing work that felt too long and exasperating, really.
Boonham’s second piece provided some compensation. The title, The Human Edge, provides the clue to this, perhaps – a piece with feelings and emotions to be communicated. Inspired by Sati, the first Hindu goddess, in less than 15 minutes it races through her life which ended in self-immolation. It was led by the Royal Ballet’s Yuhui Choe looking very un-balletic, powerful, inscrutable and features a short duet with her fellow ballet dancer, Kenta Kura. This might be the familiar territory of man-woman attraction but Boonham’s dance language and sensitivity is glorious. This is not a blockbuster pas de deux but chaste and tentative, with small gestures, tender touching of hands, nudges and looks. All up I was reminded again why I so wanted to see what Boonham was up to.
I’d have been much happier with a 15-20 minute piece on the Big Bang and 30 minutes on the life of Sati – the more so given what she has given her name to and the opening of doors to other cultures and movement that you follow when you see such work. Boonham remains one to watch, though wild horses wouldn’t get me to see Ex Nihilo again.