Kamala Devam Company – Ankusha and Other Mysteries – London

Kamala Devam Company in Devam's <I>Ankusha</I>.<br />© Vipul Sangoi. (Click image for larger version)
Kamala Devam Company in Devam’s Ankusha.
© Vipul Sangoi. (Click image for larger version)

Kamala Devam Company
Ankusha and Other Mysteries: Less of Me, The Art of Defining Me, Babushka vs Renaissance Man, Ankusha

London, Rich Mix
3 September 2016

Kamala Devam Company recently gave their very first full-evening show. Four works featured in a short programme presented to a mixed audience of friends, well wishers and those, like me, who had never seen Devam dance in her own work before. I was there because I saw a short Kickstarter video, found it interestingly different and made a mental note to see her/them.

Kamala Devam in Ankusha.© Vipul Sangoi. (Click image for larger version)
Kamala Devam in Ankusha.
© Vipul Sangoi. (Click image for larger version)

The night opened with Less of Me, a short (less than 5 minute) work made and danced by Kamala Devam following surgery and about new possibilities opening. More an amuse-bouche than anything, it at least underlined what a physically strong dancer she is – despite appearances to the contrary, not somebody to fall out with I fancy. And like the video I saw, the strong and powerful moves are slowly done and with much intrinsic elegance. The 15 minute The Art of Defining Me could not be more different – a 2013 film collaboration with Seeta Patel (who produced) taking a humorous look at getting funding, the preoccupied one-size-fits-all mentality of funding agencies and the well-meaning, if rather bonkers advice they can sometimes dispense. Devam featured in the first part – an interview panel of 3 asking questions and making well-meaning but daft suggestions about the type of work she should be doing and it needing an educational component etc. Devam’s response is heard as a wry sound commentary. The second part is a little more abstract as Seeta Patel wrestles with a sea of doors and misapplied red bindi dots in trying to find ways through all the odd expectations about what dance she does. Patel did a blog for DanceTabs that covered some of the issues: “Talking about Indian Dance – often not very well“. A good film – serious issues exposed well.

Kamila Lewandowska in Babushka vs Renaissance Man.© Kamala Devam Company. (Click image for larger version)
Kamila Lewandowska in Babushka vs Renaissance Man.
© Kamala Devam Company. (Click image for larger version)

Babushka vs Renaissance Man was the first substantial piece of dance. Choreographed by Devam and danced by Kamila Lewandowska, it uses popping (Lewandowska’s speciality) and the south Indian martial art, Kalaripayattu (which Devam uses and teaches – along with Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance). Both styles naturally use the concept of a ‘battle’ and physical bravura but here it’s a solo and much more about an overall performance. Yes there’s explosive movement from each of the ingredients, but the counterpoint is smoothly slow transitions, often requiring great strength. It’s not a quality of movement I’m used to seeing and the excellent technique of Lewandowska really pulled it all together.

Ankusha, like Babushka, is new and created especially for the company. A trio (for Devam, Tamzen Moulding and Franco Conquista) the piece isn’t afraid to meditate on the big things in life: “In a time of unprecedented philosophical polarisation, Ankusha questions the intrinsic human need to explain or control the course of one’s life” concludes Devam’s programme note. I don’t think I could actually fathom anything of a story or moral, particularly, so much as 3 dancers doing visually great things in various combinations and with a blindfold for a prop. Although originally Devam springs from the Bharatanatyam tradition she fuses it with contemporary dance, and here, acrobatic movements like cartwheels, tumbling and handstands. It really surprises but it’s all neatly integrated and I think Devam has Russell Maliphant’s eye for making you prick up all your senses. Also, like Maliphant’s association with composer Andy Cowton, Genevieve Crutchford produces some memorable music that sits well with the unfolding different physicality.

Kamala Devam Company in Devam's Ankusha.© Vipul Sangoi. (Click image for larger version)
Kamala Devam Company in Devam’s Ankusha.
© Vipul Sangoi. (Click image for larger version)

All up, I much liked the dance I saw for being so fluid, boldly physical and yet also sensual and beautifully rendered. There’s a quiet strength to all of it. If I’m supposed to find deeper dramatic meaning in the (non-film) pieces, then I think editing and clarity is needed. And a 50-minute, or so, programme of dance is not really long enough, especially for those who travel a way. But these are early days for Devam’s new endeavour: I’m pleased I saw this show and look forward to seeing the company blossom – Kamala Devam and co should be on your radar.

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