Society needs its heroes, someone to worship, admire or even, for the ambitious, to aspire to. There is no shortage of them, whether they be actual worshipped deities, fictional superheroes like Batman or Superman, rockstars or legends of the sports field or the silver screen.
We place them high on their pedestals and immediately test their fragility. A pedestal is a precarious place to be and the unwary, complacent or arrogant hero will soon be knocked off, frequently providing a side dish of schadenfreude for the observer. In her programme notes for Superhuman: Our Inner Darkness, Kalpana Raghuraman sites Kevin Spacey as one of the most recent stars to fall in disgrace from the firmament – even before the accusations have been proved and a trial had taken place. Heroes are human and have human traits and faults and it seems to be the revelation and recognition of that fact that leads to their downfall. Their fault is that they are human and they all have an inner darkness. We don’t want our heroes to be like us, we want them to be superhuman, faultless and divine. But, being human, they are bound to fail and therefore need to be replaced.
Kalpana Raghuraman’s new piece provided a fitting, super even, climax to this year’s Korzo India Dance Festival. It was one of the few completely contemporary pieces in the Festival and, had you not known anything about it, you would perhaps have missed the Indian connection. Yes, one was able to detect tabla in Simone Giacomini’s excellent and original, mainly synth and percussion score and yes, there was a lot of foot-stamping but otherwise this could have been any leading multi-racial contemporary dance company in the world.
Ms Raghuraman, who grew up in the Netherlands, labels herself not only as a choreographer but as a cultural anthropologist and is clearly interested in the hero-worship phenomenon. In Superhuman she seeks to explore the search for, and selection of, a new superhero.
The piece starts with the three girl and three boy dancers aggressively and energetically strutting their stuff like a tribal war dance, each striving to assert their dominance.
The most startling and dramatic moment of the performance came at the beginning of the second sequence. From a pitch-black stage a huge v-shaped shaft of light appears, casting the shadow of a lone figure on the back wall. The music becomes vocal and we gradually realise that it is the shadowy figure that is singing. The dancers, meanwhile, are hardly visible, barely detectable forms scattered around the dark stage. The song finishes and the light source, a lamp in a small box on castors, changes. A lid is placed on top and one of the sides removed, casting a horizontal shaft of light across the stage. The box become like a lighthouse as the singer turns it around, slowly picking out one dark figure after another.
And then the story really starts, the search begins. As the light, guided by the singer, hits each dancer they assume an impossible pose, contorting themselves into grotesque, painful shapes which they must hold until the solitary light moves on.
Although inspired by Indian mythological comics, especially the epic Mahabharata, this is a universal theme and to the untrained eye Kalpana Raghuraman’s astounding, often disturbing piece did not come across as particularly Indian. But as we know, human nature with all its strengths and weakness is universal and so are the ideas that Superhuman explores.
The six dancers were excellent and were, I suspect, taken to the limits of their abilities and endurance and for me they were all superheroes. Lotta Sophie Bakker not only sang beautifully as the enigmatic examiner but also wrote the lyrics. Mentions must also go to Asalia Khadjé whose costumes were simple but effective and to Jeffrey Steenbergen whose lighting, although often from a single source, added atmosphere, and often menace, to a very exciting and enjoyable evening. I was very impressed. Michael Hasted 4th November 2018
Click here to return to the Festival main page and our other reviews