Take your seat for a performance of Elixir being either thirsty or with a full bladder and you will be uncomfortable – the first piece of advice I would give to someone who planned on going to see Sadhana Dance company’s Elixir (conceived and choreographed by Subratha Subramaniam). Genuinely thought-provoking, the piece explores our relationship with water on a global scale; how we abuse water, and how it abuses us.
It would perhaps be more fitting to describe the performance as a multimedia installation project rather than a dance piece, because the light and sound (Kathy Hinde and Matthew Olden) and the sculpture that accompanied the dancing (Josh Baum) were more than just preamble and background; they were elements of the main spectacle.
The audience were first invited to view the installation by Josh Baum, a highly organic sculpture. Baum combined hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials to make water behave in astounding ways. Truly a wonderful piece of art in its own right. The audience were then led to the stark stage, it was illuminated from the wings, with a single woman, kneeling on the floor, dressed in white, already singing in Hindi. So far, so interesting.
Three more women entered, and the four began washing themselves ritualistically, before releasing the water held in sculptures behind them, accompanying the sound of flowing water with rhythmic tapping of their feet. Think Stomp meets The River Dance. If this high standard was maintained throughout, then it would have received a completely glowing review – this, unfortunately, was not the case.
The narrative element was strong throughout the piece, exploring the very different relationships we have with water. Some sections were noteworthy; fast-paced movements were combined with beautiful projections of flowing water to keep the audience captivated. Later on, the desperation for water had the dancers throwing each other about the stage, before contorting themselves in ways reminiscent of The Exorcist . The section during which the dancers dragged themselves towards the symbolic ‘water’ was genuinely emotional but these were specific sections in an hour-long performance, and generally the choreography lacked originality in the most fundamental sense.
As a subject, water has the potential to be an incredibly dynamic inspiration for a choreographer, however most of the choreographic ingenuity was limited to the use of the hands. There is no denying that their hand movements were intricate, interesting, and utilized wonderfully as an illustrative tool, however the contact work, lifts and motif development were fairly generic.
Although the standard of dancing was high, for the first half hour of the dance I was distracted by the manic grin on one of the dancers faces; she looked as though she had found an oasis during a drought and had not let the others in on the secret.
Elixir was an aesthetically pleasing and gently thought-provoking piece; the subject matter has a universal resonance (the scarcity of water globally is an unavoidable point of contention in today’s society) but the entire production could (and should) have been shocking, and yet I felt unmoved. It had an abundance of substance but was lacking in passion.
As an introduction to contemporary dance you could do a lot worse than see Elixir, however if you do have much experience with contemporary dance, don’t expect anything ground-breaking.