This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 14/02/2018.
Event review: The London Mozart Players’ Mozart To Malabar at Ashburton Hall
What happens when European classical music meets traditional Indian dance?
On Saturday 10th February, when London Mozart Players and traditional Indian dancers Anusha Subramanyam and Aishwarya Rajarshi performed together at the first concert to be held at Ashburton Hall, the show was a sell-out. It was clear from the start that this would be something special.
Devaki Thomas and Shuba Rao of Deshi Arts, currently managing the hall, welcomed the audience not only to the inauguration of the Byculla Suite – the hall’s largest performance space – but also to an event which captured the spirit of our town. To explore new ways of blending cultural traditions together reveals the kind of future that so many Croydonians hope for. In the words of Shuba: “this was a Puja (an act of dedication or worship in Hinduism) to open the door”.
Close enough to feel the performers’ feet pounding on the stage
The Byculla Suite is large enough for the shape of the dances to be clearly visible, but also intimate enough for the audience to feel the performers’ feet stamping the stage. And watching the London Mozart Players this close up – close enough to hear the musicians draw breath – is exciting too, because the process of music-making is sweaty and unethereal at times, however exquisite the sound. That sense of immersion made the concert even more compelling.
The programme consisted of solo dances by Subramanyam and Rajarshi to traditional music, performances by the LMP of Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major and Tschaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, and then most intriguingly, dances by both performers set to European classical music. The first was a Hindu story-telling dance – the tale of a young woman forced to abandon a baby born when she was unmarried – set to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It was so heart-rending that it was difficult to watch.
The story drew its power from its physical detail of the dance, not just its larger movements but the shifts of facial expression and tiny adjustments of the dancer’s hands which are part of this art form. It was no surprise to be told that performers who master it begin their training as young children. It was also deeply moving to see the enactment of such a female experience – the woman in the centre of feeling, rather than observed or made ‘other’ as is common in western traditions.
The second dance was a joyous Indian interpretation of Bartok’s Romanian Dances. The concert closed with Copeland’s Hoedown – as energetic and riotous as the name suggests – which had to be repeated as an encore.
This event was Deshi Arts’ production and was sponsored by Croydon Council via councillors Maddie Henson and Stephen Mann. Scott Fleary Ltd loaned the stage, which was transported to Ashburton by Wandle Park and the Citizen‘s own Andrew Dickinson. Josh and Alex constructed the stage, installed the lights outdoors and set up the sound. The Friends of Ashburton Park, chaired by Mary Gurupuran, also worked enormously hard to make the occasion a success.