Thursday, December 12, 2013




The recent world premiere of Janak Khendry's Paradise Lost was an eclectic and impressive spectacle combining Indian classical and modern Western dance styles with the iconic narrative regarding Adam and Eve's struggle with good and evil in the Garden of Eden. By following John Milton's literary masterpiece to the letter, with help from various Milton scholars, Khendry has created a faithful narrative rendition, in dance, of the original text. The central couple, Eve and Adam, played by Eddie Kastrau and Kala Vageesan, appear to represent a coming together of different cultures as they wrestle with desire, temptation, and the infamous devil may care stance of their omnipresent satanic bedfellow. The casting (and choreography) is both interesting and curious, as neither performer fits into a traditional notion of romantic lead. Ms.Vageesan comes closer to what one might expect from a traditonal representation of Eve, but the neutral, beige/pinkish costuming for both characters tends to belie the sensuality and apple mongering, serpent seizing voracity that the once idyllic pair encounter  by the end of the piece. And although the narrative unfolds with literary authenticity, there are times when the choreogrpahy seems a little too true to the action, and might have taken off into more abstract flights of fancy rather than the very naturalisitc representation of actual daily tasks undertaken in the famed lush arboreal  site.

One such scene has the couple planting seeds and then entertaining Raphael, played by Tyler Gledhill, with a casual sit down dinner in the woods. This scene reveals the choreographer's thirst for story in a narrative that is rife with opportunities for dance to take over and provide explosive, ponderous, and beautiful expressions through corporeal gesturing and nuance, rather than the excessive attention to actual everyday activity. But these are the choices made by an artist drawn to what he calls Milton's uncanny parallel narrative. Khendry says; "I have realized that John Milton's thoughts coincide and run parallel to the ancient Indian scriptures Upanishad and Bhagwat Geeta. It has always fascinated me that how great minds of different cultures and different time periods can think along the same lines."

There are gorgeous sequences of pure dance where the combination of classical and contemporary movement, in the hands of a very skilled company, becomes an exciting coming together of diverse and distinct forms - merging and complementing each other as dancers gather around balletic and modern couplings and ensemble configurations that tell the story without too much ponderous representational action. One such coupling has a series of male dancers taking part in breathtaking leaps and bounds, made glorious by ravishing colours and drifting folds of layered costumes, revealing snippets of physical sensuality as they appear to be angels in flight. An element of homo-erotica may be perceived within these titillating turns when in fact it could simply be the way that angels and their kin fearlessly frolic in mid air when confronted with the complex commingling of celestial seasonings and hell bent emotions one encounters once winged and fancy free among the billowing immortality of comforting clouds, pearly gates, and all that heaven allows. Heaven only knows.

Musical composition by Eric Cadesky, Ashit Desai, and Alep Desai follows the action with a variety of explosive, ponderous, and hauntingly fearful aural images, not least of which are the instances of Allen Kaeja's unrelenting and powerful presence as Satan. The sight and sound of the devil comes alive with a fully integrated ensemble of musical and dancerly effect. Costuming that might have accentuated the fulsome bodily presence of a tempestuous bad guy tends to take away from Kaeja's immense physical skill, rooted in the obvious muscularity of a past as a wrestler who became a dancer. And when he returns as the serpent his horizontal slitherings are appropriately eerie and enthralling, but the somewhat lounge lizard pajama effect of his costume, perhaps unintentional but present nonetheless, detracts from the slick and powerful characterization Kaeja lends to each and every appearance onstage.

One scene near the end of the piece has three female dancers in gorgeous red and black costumes as they take part in beautiful, engaging choreography that enacts "a scene of humankind's impending demise." As they "build a highway over chaos to make future passage to earth easier" one is able to lose themselves in a pure choroegraphic vision of loveliness and deceptively lilting doom. This is perhaps where the overall ensemble of bodies and movment excels - whereby spectators are given the opportunity to observe images and colour and glean their own interpretation of a timeworn zealous text intent upon teaching its readers the meaning of godliness. Milton was one committed fellow and is known for his many ways of imposing holiness upon a variety of life experiences, from blindness in Sonnet 318 to elegiac ruminations on the tragic demise of a former Cambridge classmate in Lycidas. Janak Khendry has carried the tradition of Miltonic reverence into the twenty first century with grace, diversity and literary aplomb that at times may dwell too concretely on story, but when it takes flight into less literal narratives we have a glimpse of how future incarnations of this spectacularly conceived work of art may allow heaven and hell a more interpretive and less linear approach to unfold.


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