EFR - Reviews of bhumi

bhumi

Mon 15th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Ellen Hodgetts

at 11:36 on 23rd Aug 2016

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‘bhumi’, Sanskrit/ Malay for ‘earth’ or ‘soil’ is an impressive feat of mesmerising dance and physical theatre, which seeks to explore questions about race, culture and identity. It strikes a balance between modern and traditional styles and ideas, as cultures and traditions bleed into one another to reflect the multinational ethnicities of the group of performers. A talented cast of six dancers interact with an intimacy that becomes almost tangible as their bodies move fluidly around each other. The stage set up is simple and bare, working in their favour as it allows the spectators to focus explicitly on the dancers themselves.

A tale of identity and finding a home away from home, ‘bhumi’ is an interesting exploration of the modern life of migrants, examining how two cultures can either clash or interact with each other. The narrative trajectory of the performance, however, is at times ambiguous, meaning that some of the cultural and social messages are unclear. This is countered, nevertheless, by the skill of the dancers, whose performance is engaging and entertaining even when the message behind it is somewhat obscured.

The pace of ‘bhumi’ varies throughout, moving between periods of arresting stillness, punctuated only by the breathing of the performers, and staccato bursts of driven and high intensity movement. It is these energised sections which stand out, as they capture most strongly the talent of the dancers. There is a hypnotising and synchronised elegance between the performers, meaningful and focused even in their most minute movements, for example those of the hands and feet.

A scene that falters, however, is one where the characters speak. The dialogue is stilted and the conversation appears unnatural in comparison with the slick and synchronised periods of dance which have come before. Despite this, however, the purpose of these conversational elements is clear. The focus shifts, sharply, onto the theme of communication. The artificiality is countered by the movement with which it is paired – as one performer asks the other to teach her Chinese, they teeter on an imaginary tightrope, grappling in an embrace of balletic parody. It subtly underscores the expression of the conflicts of identity and culture which characterise the entire performance.

I cannot fault the performance of these six dancers: throughout they are captivating, fluid yet impassioned in their movements. Despite an occasional lack of clarity in the narrative, the overall message remains poignant and intimate, and is a relevant and important issue within our modern society.

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Nina Klaff

at 19:13 on 23rd Aug 2016

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This piece went a little over my head, but this is in no way a reflection of its artistic worth. I’d have been just as dumbfounded had you handed me a thesis on string theory. In 'bhumi', which takes its name from the Hindu goddess of the earth, Creative Director and performer Soultari Amin Farid claims to address questions of transnationality and multiculturalism, based on the experience of being a Malayan living in London. In all honesty, this message could easily have been lost without an explanation in the program, but this is not to say that 'bhumi' is not an aesthetic masterpiece.

Five performers, in neutral tones of warm stone, edge diagonally across the stage in total synchrony. Their movements, which are accompanied by the sounds of rainfall and tweeting birds, are so meditative that I make a mental note to include them in my morning stretching. Wave-like and mystical, every second is undeniably aesthetically beautiful. Their timing is perfect, as they wind through different tempos and small story lines. Their chequered cloths transform from toys for tag into traditional Malay baju kurong.

However, it’s not until the words are spoken that the concept really marries the performance: carefully selected lines such as "Where I’m from it’s quiet" are welcome interludes to the intensity of the movement, and from this point on much is clearer. The question "Isn’t Singapore in China?" is asked as two performers mime teetering on a tightrope, a poignant metaphor for the difficulty of being uprooted. Soultari is a delight as he leads the cast in a traditional dance, directing them with powerful phrases such as "girls run, boys chase". The twinkle in his eye is so mischievous that he even has the sound technician giggling behind me: the sentence feels more like social commentary than a simple movement direction.

Heather Birley is delicately nimble, each of her movements more breathtaking than the last, and moments such as Onyx Hinds and Jimmy Adams’ extended embrace are incredibly powerful. The deep emotional connections within the group are evident in this piece, and whether it speaks to you or not, it’s impossible not to appreciate the incredible stamina and energy with which the 'bhumi' Collective perform.

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