Richard Lutz views a one-woman show that explores how colonialism poisoned a pristine world.
Seeta Patel is a British dancer who combines classical Indian choreography with modern western dance. She is a political artist which means this piece – Not Today’s Yesterdays at the Patrick Studio in Birmingham – has a point to make and there’s no mistaking it.
Her pitch, told through beautiful movement, is that ideal Edenic cultures have been mutilated and destroyed by western expansionism. India was raped and plundered by the Portuguese. Then came the more commercial but heavy handed British, the imperialist French and then, she infers, a political Indian elite that kept the same lid on things. The poor, the folks who once lived in the paradise of an ancient past, still suffer, her show says.
All well and good. And Ms Patel does tell a good tale through dance and music, some Indian and some western. But her reference point seems a bit idealistic. Before the ruthless Portuguese of the late 15th century, there were armies of the East that pounced upon India’s riches too. And the Portuguese and British used pinch points between rival and brutal kingdoms in India itself to make inroads. The paradise-to-hell metaphor just doesn’t hold weight.
Production values are high. Music ranges from a Strauss waltz to heighten the suave but brutal western wave of power to lyrical Indian melodies to down and dirty industrial techie music that brings drama to her narrative.
Patel also uses an eye-catching stained screen on which she throws grotesque shadows of monsters and ghouls to symbolise how a much lauded pristine past is poisoned by the armies and culture that swamped much of the East. But, in a stylistic move, she mimes a spoken pre-recorded narrative about the history of East/West politics. It is poetic. But mouthing a script? Like some parts of this production, it just doesn’’ add up.