by Sanjeevini Dutta, Editor Pulse Magazine
Balbir Singh Dance Company’s Synchronised is a venture which instils the grace and subtlety of kathak dance into the regimented showmanship of synchronised swimming. The end of a three-year project exploring the exchanges between the two disciplines, it was held at an Olympic-sized pool at Ponds Forge in the heart of Sheffield.
Shimmering light from the pool creates a effective cyclorama, as three youngsters in a Water Babies homage splash about at the shallow end spouting a jet, while at the centre of the pool an unnoticed, noiseless, underwater activity sends out a ripple of concentric circles. This masterly understatement sets the tone of what follows over the next hour and half.
An Indian village scene with costumes creating colourful reflections in the water morphs into a bollywood number, rapidly followed by an intense churning in the water as arms and legs flick newt-like and swimmers create a spiral formation to a drum roll. This is a magical moment but again is only a brush stroke on the canvas of a larger picture. It dissolves before the audience can fully receive it as the attention of the audience is grabbed by the mellow tones of a plaintive saxophone (Jesse Bannister arranger/composer). Five couples start a duet in which one partner sits with legs in the water whilst the partner is lowered in. Here the arm patterns of kathak come into full play, tracing circles in the air.
In the water meanwhile, an upside down can-can dance is performed – the thrusts of legs perfectly timed to the music. The graceful tumbley dolphin-like play of the swimmers brings out the beauty of this sport art. The principal swimmer moves through the water with a slippery smoothness and the twists, and flicks of head, neck, arms and wrists add calligraphic brush strokes.
Narrative elements such as Krishna’s struggle with the snake Kaliya create an interesting tableau and are balanced by pure synchronised sequences – chain formations, the head of the swimmer held between the legs of the swimmer behind. They create thrilling patterns of stars, wheels and a cannon of back flips.
The conclusion combines kathak and aqua dance seamlessly as the sawaal-javaab (question-answer) between the percussion and the dancer is played on the clappers and the thaap-thaap on the surface of the water. The swirls of water become the dancers’s skirts in the chakaars (pirouettes) as an extended tehai concludes a fascinating exposition of kathak and synchronised swimming.
With Synchronised Balbir Singh has set a new aesthetic canon to the sport-art of synchronised swimming. Will he be invited to advise on Team GB bound for Rio?