Having never experienced an Asian Dance performance, I was an eager audience member anticipating Odissi Ensemble’s debut showing of Shades of Love. So were plenty of others, as the crowded theatre in Luton’s Hat Factory was buzzing with excitement. As the dancers enter the theatre in darkness, the anticipation rises with the jingle of the bells around their feet. This leads into the first of seven individual dances, in which each one tells a different story, and the bells induce a rhythm that always matches perfectly with the music.
The style itself is definitely separated from the stereotypical Indian dance that is now commercialised. The intricate and unique isolations are delivered by the dancers with such precision, along with a great sense of musicality towards the choreography. The dances also demand a high level of expression within the face, and at times the dancers are literally miming situations, to engage the audience in the story. Some could find this a bit too literal, but I thought it was conveyed well and gave a context to the pieces that needed it. Other sections did not have a set theme and relied mainly on the musical –bodily connection; yet even in these pieces strong relationships between the dancers were evident. The classical choice of colourful costume, jewellery and make up added to the glamour and culture of Odissi and complemented the choreography beautifully.
As someone who generally leans towards contemporary dance, it was so refreshing to see this antithesis dance form, and I enjoyed it for its differences. The current trend in dance theatre is to strip the dancers down – emotionally and physically – in regards to costume we often see neutral colours and a lot of bare skin, coupled with emotionless, serious faces. In Shades of Love the dancers were often smiling, allowing their genuine happiness to shine through to the audience – and this was uplifting. Odissi Ensemble are aiming to increase the profile of this niche Indian Dance style, and with audience members describing it as magical I think they are on they way to success.