Croydonites Festival 2018 review: Anusha Subramanyam’s From The Heart and SLiDE Dance’s Insert Title Here at the Braithwaite Hall

By - Monday 28th May, 2018

Subtlety, variety and intensity in two extraordinary dance performances

Photo by SLiDE, used with permission.

The company of eight or so dancers enters in a group, clutching corrugated cardboard cog-like drums, making squeaking and gabbling noises like a faulty machine. But any impression of faultiness is soon dispelled as the drums became stools and a kind of musical chairs takes place. They exit with their drums, only to enter again with cellist Sarah Butcher (a member of the London Mozart Players) in their midst.

The group forms a huddle around her. Dancers form duets, turn in the air, then fall to the ground. The dancers form two parallel human chains; one does a cartwheel between them. It is a joyous, exuberant rejoicing in movement.

Two men lie on their backs yards apart calling to one another: “where are you?”, “I’m here”. They shuffle backwards towards each other, help each other up and do a lively kung fu-style dance. Breaking off into pairs, the group’s members help one another up from the ground and duet. It is beautiful to watch.

“Would you catch me if I fell?”, “Of course you would”

The third piece begins with the sound of muttering. Dancers move freestyle to the Michael Jackson song Working Day And Night. The performance is a carefully choreographed, joyful celebration. One dancer stands on two drums and boogies. One audience member stands up and moves in time to the music. More spoken words: “Would you catch me if I fell?”, “Of course you would”. The group catches a leaping female dancer.

A trio of male dancers use the drums like stepping stones to exit the dance space. The cellist follows them out. Rapturous applause.

The performance by SLiDE Dance, entitled Insert Title Here, is part of Croydonites Festival of New Theatre 2018 and takes place in the Braithwaite Hall on Sunday 12th May. We watchers are seated in the round, free to come and go, but are all so engaged in the performance that almost no-one leaves their seat. There are three pieces and we are asked to ‘insert title here’ after each one on postcards we have been given at the door. The favourite title chosen by the company is: ‘Ships and walls: where old memories fall’.

Photo by Vipul Sangoi, used with permission.

Next comes the piece From The Heart by Anusha Subramanyam. It contrasts the stylised, controlled and very beautiful movements of the traditional Asian dance form, Bharatanatyam, with ‘ordinary’ gestures. She takes us on an extraordinary journey, telling stories through movement from the lyrical to the nightmarish.

She begins with miming picking flowers, smelling their fragrance, throwing them to the audience, breaking them into confetti. There is a soundtrack like rain and she dances playfully with water, splashing it on her face, kicking puddles.

She creates a child presence on stage, to whom she throws a ball. She demonstrates skills that a Premier League football player would be proud of. The music is traditional Asian singing with a rhythmic drumbeat. Then she seems to lift the child up and lay it down – her gestures become those of grief and fear. She covers her face with her hands – hands which unfurl and make exquisite gestures at other times. A finger pointing to a temple needs no translation. Throughout her face evokes powerful emotions, completely in tune with her movements.

This performances shares the joy of working with severely disabled and mentally ill people

The music changes: sonorous voices, ghostly. The hands make the flapping gesture pointing at the ears that teenagers make when someone is talking too much. She throws her hands down in a gesture that says, ‘enough!’. She enacts the torment of hearing voices and later, hallucination. Finally she strides purposefully forward, crosses her clenched fists in a gesture of strength.

Anusha Subramanyam says of this piece: “my aim was to share the joy I felt working with severely disabled and mentally ill people… From vulnerability comes strength, to be very vulnerable and raw”.

In my view, she more than achieved her aim.

There’s another opportunity to see this joyous, life-enhancing performance on Sunday 17th June, 3–4pm at St John the Evangelist Church, Sylvan Road, Upper Norwood SE19 2RX. Tickets £5, under-18s free. For further information, please call 07887 781361.

Jo Bodley

Jo Bodley

Jo is a freelance writer living in north Croydon.

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