A dancer (Hu Shenyuan) takes centre stage, his lithe body guided by an atmospheric soundscape into movements of breathtaking fluidity. His limbs and torso are delicately lit, allowing our eyes to soak in the full impact of his movements, isolating different parts of his body from one moment to the next. At the end of this sequence, he puts on a coat – the most aesthetically pleasing putting on of a coat that you will ever see – and sets out into the world. There he encounters another dancer (Aakash Odedra), of similarly impressive physical mastery but in a substantially different stylistic manifestation. The two journey together over an hour – bodies expressing ideas, emotions, actions – at times in conflict, at other times in conversation, and at yet other times in perfect oneness.
Samsara by Aakash Odedra Company is a breathtaking dance work encapsulating traditional and spiritual ideas and expressions from China and India, melding them into a form that transcends time, place, and context. The work is artistically flawless, presenting masterful choreography against a hauntingly perfect technical backdrop. The physical space is transformed from scene to scene: the lighting design articulates the context, and the soundscape (instruments, vocals, percussion) holds our focus there. The choreography weaves in and out of repeating themes, largely consisting of cultural symbolism, escalating towards a finale that ties it all together.
The choreography is drawn from multiple dance forms, notably Kathak (a traditional Indian dance form), Chinese folk dance, ballet, and contemporary dance. It is a delight to watch Odedra and Shenyuan converse physically in the dance forms of their training, and interpret the same choreography through the different bodily instincts that their chosen forms have furnished them with. The two dancers honour the stylistic distinctions of their dance forms, especially in the sequence where they interact in a call-and-response style jugalbandi of sorts, and use movement, expression, and physically produced sounds (such as Odedra’s Kathak-inspired foot percussion) to create an entrancing atmosphere.
The consistent excellence of the show, sequence after sequence, makes it a challenging task to choose highlights or favourite moments, but I did have a couple. Odedra’s Mahadev solo, where he channels both the mythical divinity of Shiva and the feverish devotion of his followers, was a particular delight. The aesthetic impact of falling sand, particularly as the show moved towards the finale, was another stunning element in this show. And the visual – and spiritual – impact of Odedra and Shenyuan gliding effortlessly across the sandy stage floor in a series of sashtang dandvat pranam gave me goosebumps.
Samsara is a show that works on every level. To someone with no background in the subject matter of the choreography, the beauty of the artistry will still speak with power. To someone with some background, the recognizable symbols and practices reflected in the show’s conceptualization and themes will stand out and take on new meaning. And as for the beauty of seeing what is depicted but not immediately recognized, that will create a longing to learn more, to know more. In that sense, the journey of Samsara lingers beyond the confines of the hour-long performance.