INDIA DANCE FESTIVAL at Korzo in The Hague

Cloud Messenger. Photo by Emi Barendse

For the hippy and post-hippy generations a pilgrimage to India was almost de rigueur. Kaftans and beads were for sale in Chelsea’s Kings Road boutiques, as I’m sure they were in Amsterdam, and the sweet smell of joss sticks pervaded the air. I was never a hippy and I never went to India but I have always had a love of Indian music – I once spent two hours alone with Ravi Shankar while he did his daily practise, but that’s another story. My point is that the India Dance Festival is something to which I particularly look forward and this year’s opening performance of Cloud Messenger at The Hague’s Korzo theatre did not disappoint.

This was a big production by any standard and certainly the biggest I have seen at the Korzo with sixty artists on stage and an extra fifty seats on the side of the playing area to accommodate the huge demand for tickets. And, as you would expect, there were a lot of people and organizations involved in the production. Basically it is Klapstuk in co-production with Korzo and was developed in collaboration with Zangam with financial support from numerous bodies.

But what of Cloud Messenger itself? Billed as “a contemporary, interdisciplinary music and dance performance at the intersection of Indian and Western traditions” it was inspired by the fifth-century poem Meghaduta by Kalidasa, one of India’s greatest writers. It is basically the story of two separated lovers who use the clouds as a . . . err . . . messenger to carry their billet-doux to each other.

The show started with the artists slowly circling the stage before taking up their places. The majority of them were the singers of the Indian Zangam choir augmented by Theater Choir Dario Fo, together making more than forty singers. The band was made up of six members of the New European Ensemble plus tabla and Indian violin. The tabla ensured that the sounds of India were never lost but the music by Samhita Mundkur of Zangam and Dutchman Boudewijn Ruigrok, the artistic director of Klapstuk, was modern and very eclectic with the influence of Phillip Glass never far away. The vocals to me were as important as the dancing and two Indian singers shared the spotlight with Mr. Ruigrok. He sang beautifully and his contributions were, for me, one of the high-spots of the evening. For one passage the tabla player even had a song. The dancing was unmistakably Indian but with a very modern interpretation.

If I was asked to describe Cloud Messenger in one word it would be “exhilarating”. Oh, and superb. Two words, exhilarating and superb. Michael Hasted  18th May 2024


India Dance Festival continues until 28th May and we will be reviewing more events. Watch this space.