Death is an important and inevitable part of life. How we deal with it depends on who and where we are. Of course, the element of personal loss does not vary but the way different societies do is another matter. From the Mexican Day of the Dead, to New Orleans jazz funerals and the holy cremations on the River Ganges each culture or religion has its own way of dealing with death – part mourning, part celebration, part preparing for entry into the next life – but always, despite its commonplace, a big occasion.
Kalpanarts is a contemporary, multi-ethnic dance company created by choreographer Kalpana Raghuraman and Gysèle ter Berg. In True Life, which premièred last night to a full house at the Korzo, they examine the relationship between life and its end, and the reverse. Perhaps one of the most complex and layered reactions to, and dealings with, death is practiced by the Hindu religion and it is this which seems to have most guided the piece and although the Indian influence was clear, it was fairly subtle with not a sitar or sari in sight. India was very much where it was coming from, not where it was going.
As the lights came up, the seven dancers – five girls and two boys – stood motionless amid the swirling mist below a ceiling of draped muslin which gave the effect of being in some exotic tent. Dressed identically in beige coloured skirts and loose tops they gradually started to move to the hypnotic soundtrack by Simone Giacomini. The first half of the piece was a fairly laid back, slow moving affair with the ensemble working as a whole and rather putting me in mind of those old Isadora Duncan clips and photos.
For me True Life really came alive, if that’s the right word, in the second part where the dancers worked individually or in pairs. The sequence with the tall male dancer Sooraj Subramanian, moving to the beautiful and powerful live singing of Shishani Vranckx, was possibly, for me, the highlight of the evening. I also very much liked it when Ms Vranckx was carried on the shoulders of the other six as if to her funeral – though rather incongruously, I thought, playing a guitar.
The final sequence was a totally joyous and celebratory affair with each dancer allowed to express themselves individually with lots of hand clapping, foot stomping and smiles all round.
Death is simple and inevitable; it is life that is complicated and unpredictable. Eternal life in some form of heaven is promised by most religions, as is some sort of resurrection, like in the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Whether we fall for that now, and whether an eternal life is still such an attractive proposition these days is another matter.
Before the show started we were invited to a discussion, moderated by Vincent Wijlhuizen, with theater producer and politician Narsingh Balwantsingh who highlighted the importance of rituals and the value of continued traditions. Balwantsingh was instrumental in the creation of the first official location in Rotterdam for Hindus to scatter cremation ashes, giving them a dignified way to fulfill their funeral rites and send the ashes of their loved ones into the river. Michael Hasted 14th October 2022
Photography campaign image Bowie Verschuuren