Within seeks to awaken our collective social consciousness
- Dr. S.D. Desai
e-mail: sureshmrudula@gmail.com
Photos: Dr. Harsh Shah

February 25, 2017

With incisive intellectual inputs to her latest work Within and the emotions she stirs, Aditi Mangaldas reaffirms her place as a choreographer with an exceptionally good foundation in classical Kathak and having, at the same time, a contemporary approach. The contemporariness in her case, viewers could discern at IceCraft Classical Dance Festival on the final day, is twofold. Her form has a striking contemporary appeal and her theme is relevant to the present time. Within has two segments, Knotted and Unwrapped, each of forty minutes. Neither of them has a narrative. They have two clusters of powerful images.

The images Knotted swarms with are dark, visibly with little light and in tone foreboding evil. The sounds on the recorded track are not agreeable ones. At times the track gives out discordant, even weird, sounds. There is no unity of action. If you try to figure out its meaning conventionally, looking for a linear narrative, you are left baffled. Someone is writhing in pain. Someone is in spasms, someone in convulsions. Someone looks a pure lunatic. They move moron-like, without looking at each other. One cannot stand a look from another. There is indifference to another's anguish. A hug once attempted found no response. All that is abnormal looks normal here.

The backdrop looks like a dark, rugged wall of a forbidding height in a cell offering no exit. One gets reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. He created in it a doomed unalterable human condition. Aditi creates in her compact dance piece, imaginatively conceptualized, a society of our own making in which sensitivity, the very trait that distinguishes a human from an animal is absent. The work, though prompted by a brutal rape and killing of a girl, becomes a parable of 'the paragon of all animals' turning the basest and the most insensitive of them all.

A work of art cuts out the gross and gets to the core. Aditi's Within has us all look within and question our direction, our pursuits, our concerns. She extraordinarily succeeds. Her work is directed at the social entity that we are. If I take the liberty to share my personal response to Knotted, I felt numb. It was later that I read in the Choreographer's Note, '…the intention is to leave the audience unsettled during the interval.' The anguish she and her team had created on stage had come across to some of us. Created with empathy, Knotted in Within targets our collective social consciousness.

So does Unwrapped, where moving away from the dark images are the images of creation formed with human activity. Everyone in the world is in their element. Gradually they look at one another, not stare. They get connected with touch. Flowers open petal by petal. Birds fly out of their hands. A tinkle is heard from every single tiny bell of the ghunghru. Individuals seek to be in harmony with the universe. Discordant sounds of friction and conflict subside and there is movement towards the primordial anahad sound permeating.

Do we all hear that sound, coming from around – and from within? 'All day I look for you,' Aditi, the principal dancer, mumbled earlier in this segment. The mumbling has the voice of conviction. Can we all seek and find it? Later the vocalist's subdued rendering bursts, "Kahat Kabir suno bhai sadho, iseeme-n Saai hamaara..." The voice of conviction is again heard when, as the programme concludes, Aditi quotes J. Krishnamurti, “To understand yourself, you must create a mirror that reflects accurately what you are..."

Dr. SD Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti,  Nartanam and Attendance. He guest-edited Attendance 2013 Special Issue. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.