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This unique performance in Mumbai pays tribute to Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky with kathak moves

Updated on: 21 February,2024 07:10 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

A unique performance unites the synaesthesia of Russian abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky’s colours with the rigour and grace of kathak moves

This unique performance in Mumbai pays tribute to Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky with kathak moves

Composition VIII. Pics Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons

What is the colour of a child’s surprise? Or the sound of hunger? These could be questions from a three-year-old or the deep musings of a sozzled philosopher at a local pub. Yet, there are geniuses across the world who have experienced this phenomenon. Nikola Tesla claimed that words inspired his visions; Richard Feynman’s equations emerged with colours; Jimi Hendrix could see colours through chords. This phenomenon of synaesthesia was a defining part of the works of early 20th century abstractionist painter, Wassily Kandinsky.

Mouvement 1, 1935
Mouvement 1, 1935

“His [Kandinsky] art is unique in many ways; one being that he was a synesthete,” says Sugandh Lamba, artistic director, who is currently preparing for Lemme Dance You A Picture at Harkat Studios. The show will seek to blend the visual abstraction of Kandinsky’s art with the physical movements of kathak. The idea, she reveals, developed in 2023 when she held a performance for a school for special needs students. “I organised a small annual theatre production for special — needs students, where one of the stories was on Kandinsky. That’s where my research on the phenomenon truly began. It sparked my curiosity to create something around art and dance,” Lamba says.

A moment from the rehearsal
A moment from the rehearsal

Born in Russia in the early 20th century, Kandinsky emerged as one of the leading abstractionists of his age. Trained in music, his ability to see colours when hearing sound redefined his approach to art. “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with its many chords,” he famously declared. This will be brought to the Harkat Studios stage by four performers — Lamba, Ramya Palavajjhala, Sneha Masurkar and Kriti Chordia. Noting our confusion at the concept, Lamba elaborates, “I cannot recreate Kandinsky’s experience of synaesthesia. What we are looking to do is to see how we can project his art through our expressions.”

Sugandh Lamba
Sugandh Lamba

This concept is not new, but it is not traditional either. Modern dance performances have often sought to interpret visual arts. Lamba puts it down to the nature of the dance form at display — kathak. Having learnt kathak from the age of five, Lamba remarks that the dance form is a direct contrast to Kandinsky’s ideals. “Kathak dancers, as is common in Indian classical dance, focus on structures and form. Each move is carefully tailored to expression. Kandinsky, meanwhile, never believed in structures. What I am trying to do is bring the tools of improvisation from modern theatre and dance to this experiment,” 
she says.

Wassily Kandinsky’s Several Circles, 1926. Pics Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons
Wassily Kandinsky’s Several Circles, 1926. Pics Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons

The result is an experiment — Lamba prefers it over the term performance — that will see them interpret Kandinsky’s artworks as they are projected on a screen behind. This will be complemented by the music of American composer Steve Reich. It is made even more unpredictable by the introduction of improvisation via the audience. “When we say audience participation, it is a lot like improv theatre. We will pass around chits, and ask an audience member to pick an artwork to be displayed,” the 36-year-old reveals.

Wassily Kandinsky. Pic Courtesy/
Wassily Kandinsky. Pic Courtesy/

However, improvisation often implies an element of unpredictability. “We started working on the idea in January this year, and have been jamming since. Even now, the dances are in my head,” she laughs. That notion of inexpressibility certainly brings the experiment closer to Kandinsky’s conception of art, we imagine.

On: February 25; 7.30 pm.
At: Harkat Studios, JP Road, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova. 
Log on to:
Cost: Rs 350

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