Akademi tantalised Hounslow’s local community last Saturday with their multifaceted exploration of Dante’s Paradiso: Man’s Enduring Search for Perfection at Bell Square London, a free festival packed with dance and physical theatre performances. Paradiso is a poignant and highly moving piece of choreography. Following the inspirational conceptualisation of Akademi’s director Mira Kaushik OBE and choreographer Jose Agudo, Akademi instills Dante’s final stage of his narrative poem, written in1308-1321, The Divine Comedy, through a wide-range of contemporary and traditional Indian dance styles.

For 40 years, Akademi has continued with their mission to inspire and bring ‘classical, contemporary, popular and participatory South Asian dance’ to all audiences. Their mission, to inspire, is crystal clear throughout Paradiso. In his literary masterpiece, Dante describes the struggles and obstacles man faces in a lifetime. Akademi expresses these cosmological and mortal forces through the strength of six diverse dancers, some more experienced in Indian dance and others trained in contemporary dance technique.

Before the show had begun, as more audiences, including children, gathered at Hounslow’s High Street and its long stretch of market stalls, Akademi set their space with a large circle drawn on the ground. Here was the cosmos and man’s position in it. Like the planets within the solar system, each dancer played a significant part, orbiting in space.

Edward Arnold slowly entered the circle as our portrayal of man. With acrobatic technique and agility, Arnold’s movement encapsulated the endless capabilities of man. Experienced in traditional Indian dance, Archita Kumar acts as Beatrice, Dante’s ‘ideal woman’. Depicting a higher power in the cosmos, she guides and maneuvers Arnold. Together with the talented collective of dancers, including Carmine De Amicis, Ellen Yilma, Francesco Migliaccio, and Kamala Devam, man’s journey is met with pathos, sorrow, momentary bliss and dramatic ferocity. This is all beautifully woven together by stunning collaborative dance.

Paradiso is so thought-provoking it had me wondering, what will happen next? Will man survive the chaos in the stars, or will he fail? Paradiso is divided into various vignettes, some with a form of pas de deux. Yimla and De Amicis performed a touching duet. Playful and gracious, it was a pleasure to watch. In the beginning scenes, Kumar and Arnold’s first interaction involves no physical contact, but with their expressive arms and hands, it seemed as if they were having a symbolic dialogue of their own, translated through their eclectic blend of dance styles. The penultimate part concluded with an energetic finale where all dancers moved fast to the beats of a drum. Non-stop and highly vigorous, they managed to perform this without a glitch, and in complete synchronicity.

Arnold appeared to look and move like Keanu Reeves from the film The Matrix. This was enhanced by Martina Trottmann’s Asian, martial art-inspired, grey and black costumes, designed and cut for the dancers to move and flow dynamically. Paradiso is accompanied by Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s all-embracing and experimental music, a combination of percussion, traditional Indian and classical elements.

The audience at Bell Square grew larger as the performance went on. Some just passing by, on their way in and out of the market, stopped and took a seat.  The special relationship that Bell Square London has with various performance groups, including Akademi, allows new and regular audiences to see engaging works of dance and physical theatre.

Akademi are taking Paradiso on tour around London. (Click here for more information.)

Or check out my Preview Post about Bell Square London and its forthcoming shows here.

I’m a Bell Square Blogger in Residence for 2017.

http://www.bellsquarelondon.com

 Have a look at the schedule online

here. Follow them on Social Media here.

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