Wild Card: Seeta Patel @ the Lilian Baylis Studio Review

Wild Card at Sadler’s Wells is a series of evenings that unveil new perspectives of dance making by allowing artists to present new work that is meaningful to them. Seeta Patel chooses to bring to the audiences the Indian classical dance style of Bharatanatyam. Though born and raised in the UK and with a background in contemporary dance, Patel is passionate about this South Indian style of dancing.

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We witness a performance that originally began as part of celebrations and temple worships in India, suffered a decline in popularity throughout its history but was reborn in the modern days. This type of dance is accompanied by Carnati music and, in a way, inseparable from it. Its goal is storytelling through the sung lyrics in the language of Tamil, through the abhinaya – the facial expressions, and the mudrás – the hand gestures. All of these elements carry an ancient symbolism unknown to our culture in the UK. For that reason it is hard to make a judgement on the quality of this storytelling though all the gestures seemed incredibly specific and the performance full of detail. This is a highly rhythmical dance and though most of the times Patel danced these rhythms perfectly alongside the musicians there were still moments of slight imprecision. However, it is important to stress that this was a long arduous piece that was full of variety in the dance movements and in the rhythms created and I commend the dancer and the musicians on their remarkable work.

The immediate feeling at the beginning of the performance is one of awe when the music starts and when the expressive Patel takes the stage. It is like we are suddenly transported to a different world and immersed into a new culture – and these are experiences I truly relish. However this feeling looses its strength as the first piece drags for forty-five minutes telling a story through symbols most of us do not understand.

Even with a description of this story of love and separation on the program, it is still nearly impossible to follow the plot if you have no previous knowledge of this art form. If Patel’s goal with this show was to divulge this style of dance and attract more people to witness its beauty and value then maybe I would suggest shortening its length in order to make it more accessible. If the goal is to attract the Indian community in London or the knowledgeable and passionate ones about Indian dancing then the show’s length should not be a problem as the actual celebrations and performances usually last many hours.

The second part of the show is presented and narrated by Pushkala Gopal with an accompanying orchestra. This time we are told the stories in English previous to their interpretation through abhinaya. The themes are often of love and the stories portray the life of heroines.

Even though in our culture many elements of this show are incomprehensible it is easy to imagine the immense value and richness within this art form and why it is important to preserve it or rather keep renewing it and keep it alive. 3/5

Review written by Sofia Moura.

Wild Card: Seeta Patel was shown at the Lilian Baylis Studio (Sadler’s Wells) on Thursday 25th and Friday 26th September. For more information on Seeta Patel, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop