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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

My personal pick at GDIFestival 2023 - ‘Deva’ by Pagrav Dance Company

Summer in London means lots of outdoor events, and most of them involve entertainment of performing arts. There have been numerous such festivals and fairs to choose from in London alone - some are famous, some are new. One of the favourites of my husband and myself is Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, aka GDIF. They invite a number of interesting and impressive dance and acrobats companies from the UK as well as abroad, and their popularity and reputation has increased year by year.

We have enjoyed several outstanding performances this year too, but if I pick one that impressed me the most, it should be ‘Deva’ by Pagrav Dance Company‘.

‘Deva’ trailer (1)

‘Deva’ trailer (2)

‘Deva’ is a dance production conceptualised and directed by Urja Desai Thakore, the artistic director and CEO of Pagrav Dance Company, and Hetain Patel, a London based independent artist. Through the beautiful and mesmerising movements of Kathak dance, sensual music and spoken word (with an aid of live sign language), they challenge myths and perceptions of British Asian identity. It starts with the dancers bumping against each other, indicating their lack of mutual understanding, but gradually their movements get organised and sophisticated as they learn languages of each other.

Personally I love watching Kathak dance in general not only because it’s said to be a part of the origins of flamenco dance but also because it’s a beautiful dance form as is. ‘Deva’ was simply one of the most superb Kathak performances I’ve seen so far; all the dancers were equally fantastic and engaging to watch.

Generally, as much as we love seeing artistic performances outdoors, we can’t also help noticing obstacles that prevent us from fully enjoying such shows, mostly due to the fact that we can’t shut out ‘noise’ and distractions from those who aren’t interested in the cultural happenings in the shared public spheres: you can’t control spontaneous chatting, phones, cars, sirens… Even though many people come to embrace the artistic moments, there are also certain pedestrians and outdoor-dining customers who don’t want to pay attention to the free offer of entertainment.

When watching ‘Deva’, although we were not totally free from city noise, I felt theatrical silence from the audience who tried to concentrate on the story told by the charming yet powerful Kathak dancers. It was such a compelling show to watch and nobody wanted it to be ruined. The dancers were breathing the music, living the meaning of the spoken word, communicating with the audience, and even turning their sign-language interpreter as a part of the artistic presence by passing around her with a waving cloth.

Quite a few outdoor dance performances these days tend to be quite acrobatic and visually sensational, which is brilliant as is, but in some occasions their movements don’t seem to unite with the music chosen. Sometimes their carefully selected music is pushed to the background rather than functioning as a trigger to entice specific moves. We indeed enjoy watching great circus, parkour, busking, performing arts in general, but when we want to see a ‘dance’... at least I expect a certain marriage between the dance and the music. A lack of emotional connection to music could spoil a story or concept that the performers want to convey.

When the music works as a trigger to cultivate particular moves and timing, and when dancers embody such unification of the music and the choreography, we feel rewarded by watching such performances. Acrobats can impress us, but real dances can also touch our emotions.

‘Deva’ at GDIF was a real dance performance that could move us. As the dancers were experiencing and expressing the music as well as the spoken word, we also felt what they were trying to communicate. I felt touched by this lovely artistic gift of the summer, which made me rethink and re-appreciate what a dance should be like.

Pagrav Dance Company

London as a Dancing City - Revitalising the culture at GDIFestival 2021


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