Daksha Sheth Dance Company
REVIEW NINA LEVY
The promotional image for Shiva Shakti shows leading lady Isha Sharvani hanging upside down. She is suspended by a rope, wrapped around her body and held in place, unbelievably, between her big and second toe.
It doesn't look like the most secure arrangement but as it turns out, in danger terms, that's pretty tame for Shiva Shakti. An aerial sword fight, complete with sparks as metal hits metal? Now that's more like it.
India's Daksha Sheth Dance Company is renowned for integrating contemporary dance with traditional Indian dance, aerial and martial art forms. Shiva Shakti's airborne, highly mobile sword fight is a particularly spectacular example.
The show is not just about spectacle, though. Shiva Shakti is based on ancient Tantric philosophy, exploring the male "principle", shiva, and the female "principle", shakti, and what happens when the two unite. Sometimes that's a mid-air armed tussle, other times it's gentle and harmonious.
It's not just about dance either - undoubtedly, a highlight of Shiva Shakti is the live percussion. Indeed, it's drumming that opens the show - we hear it before we see it.
If you thought drumming was just about moving the hands, think again. Four men, with their drums slung across their bare chests on red sashes, appear in line formation. Feet stamping, heads snapping, their slim yet muscular bodies seem to be propelled across the stage by their own rhythms. Lithe and springy, they barrel through the air as a finale.
Alongside the four drummers, who make appearances throughout the show, is solo percussionist Tao Issaro, co-composer of the music with his father, Devissaro.
Playing a large, stage-bound drum, Issaro's drumsticks move so fast they are a blur. The sticks are thick, almost club-like, so the speed is all the more astonishing. Such is Issaro's force that one of these chunky sticks actually broke, mid-rhythm on the night viewed. Without missing a beat he located a spare and the furious rhythm continued.
Although there are various dancers who represent the male shiva, shakti is played by Sharvani throughout. A versatile performer, she moves with ease from circus-like mid-air stunts to deep knee bends and earthy stamping. She commands attention throughout, but particularly in the final moments of the show. With the full cast on stage, it's difficult to take one's eyes off Sharvani as she ripples through the movement.
Sharvani aside, the finale itself is a treat, with its compelling body percussion rhythms and rolling torsos. That culminating scene confirms that Shiva Shakti is a work that gains momentum throughout. Earlier in the evening my attention wandered at times. A scene featuring a red length of material that binds shiva and shakti, felt overly sentimental with its Hollywood-style piano accompaniment.
Fortunately, such moments are the exception rather than the rule. The aforementioned aerial sword fight, for example, is sensational. Combatants sweep through the air, merry-go-round style, as they brandish their metal weapons, which spark dramatically on impact.
In an age where so much of this kind of entertainment is presented to us using digital manipulation, it takes one's breath away to see such a scene presented so physically.
Shiva Shakti is a feast of Indian rhythms and movement styles that's well worth a look.
Shiva Shakti ends tomorrow.