Review: Nava Dance Theatre – Broken Seeds Still Grow Bankhead Theater, Livermore - Aug 27, 2022
Updated: Aug 28, 2022
Seventy-five years ago, in August 1947, the British divided the Indian subcontinent into the independent nations of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. This division, of one nation into two, was accompanied by one of the largest mass migrations in human history and violence on a scale that had seldom been seen before. This separation of former countrymen is known as partition.
Broken Seeds Still Grow, a theatrical dance created and performed by Nava Dance Theatre (NDT) and Rupy C. Tut, premiered in 2017. I saw a reprise at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. Broken Seeds is a reflection on the legacy of partition. It is a powerful and important artistic contribution to the subject. Nadhi Thekkek and Rupy C. Tut share production creator and director credits.
Audiences young and old will connect to the pantomime used to convey the emotion-rich stories. The messages around accepting others should resonate with all. Southeast Asian audience members may have knowledge of partition and its lasting effects, while outsiders, such as myself may be largely uninformed. Broken Seeds is a conversation starter, an information builder and a beautiful evocative artistic work.
The dancers, eight women, perform using Bharatanatyam movement vocabulary, a form of traditional Indian dance. The stage is clear, but for the musicians seated discretely on one side of the stage. Original paintings, calligraphy, and illustrations created by Rupy are projected, in large scale, onto the backdrop. The artwork effectively amplifies and supports the drama. All the events described are created through the amazing pantomime of the performers. There are no props or supporting characters.
Performer Nadhi Thekkek, photo by Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi
Choreographer Nadhi performs the principal role of our storyteller-guide with skill and grace. She communicates so much with her face, that one doesn’t miss the words she might say in a different form of theater. Nadhi is a consummate actress, conjuring images of a child in her arms, or the washing of blood from her hands, out of thin air. Holding her hands near her mouth, while rotating her fingers outward, we understand she is talking to the imagined child at her knee.
The musical score, composed by G. S. Rajan, reinforces the emotions and themes of each of the eleven sections. With his flute in hand he leads the musical ensemble, which includes cellists, percussionists and a singer.
Broken Seeds is well-researched and well-constructed. Nadhi and Rupy studied contemporary history, witness statements, interviews, documentaries, news reports and even poetry to ensure the work authentically conveys the lived experiences of both those alive at the time and their descendants.
The performance is well-paced, covering past and present in under two hours including a 15-minute intermission. The first act’s seven sections are set in the past. Beginning in a simpler time before partition, it moves through the rising tensions leading up to partition and finally shows the burdensome, grief-filled and often violent aftermath.
A mournful cello introduces Section V: Burden. An illustration of a woman, cane in hand, stooped over under the weight of the bulging sack she carries is projected. Five dancers fill the stage each dealing with their own challenge. Some walk with long lunging strides, carrying something heavy on their backs. Others struggle to push something away or draw something to them as their arms strain to pull an imaginary rope. Their expressiveness helps us feel both the physical and emotional weight of being uprooted, leaving their homes and communities behind.
Act Two moves us to the present, where ongoing heartaches of displacement and discrimination are explored. There is also celebration of activists and their efforts to fight for inclusion and keep cultures alive. Hope and trepidation for future generations is present.
The show has a wonderful arc from start to finish. Movement motifs repeat adding layers of meaning. For instance, the performance opens with Nadhi on her knees running dirt through her fingers. She is joyful. This remembrance is swept aside by the vitriol of Section II: Poisoned Water. Once more Nadhi is running dirt through her fingers, but this time it smells bad. Her eyes search with confusion and concern, as images of a burning village play.
Later in Section X: Her Sweat and Tears, Nadhi again kneels to feel the dirt with her hands. Satisfied, she plants a seed, gently covering it before watering it, as the percussionist makes the sound of drops. She looks to the heavens and cups her pregnant belly. A video of a tree growing plays, as Nadhi soothes a baby at her shoulder. We see a full progression of her interactions with the growing child. She tickles its toes, and later teaches it to play catch. When she sends it off to school, she assures it that it is safe to go. Soon her face fills with concern as she mimes the child returning to whisper in her ear about being pushed because of the color of their skin. The mother calls both children to her and explains that they will grow up together and need to use their words to solve their problems.
Continued social-activism requires new voices and leaders. Fittingly, in the final section, we observe Nadhi passing the lead role to dancer Shruti Abhishek, who is honored to close out the performance by crouching to draw in the dirt.
Having been raised on traditional story ballets like Giselle, with their contrived fairytales, it was marvelous to see how dance and pantomime can be used to share lived histories and communicate effectively about contemporary issues. NDT’s storytelling will no doubt spur discussion in families, while shedding light on areas of concern. I am so grateful to have been witness to these experiences, hopes, and dreams.
Review by Jen Norris August 28, 2022
Broken Seeds Still Grow
Bankhead Theater, Livermore, August 27, 2022
Premiered November 16-19, 2017 in Oakland, CA at The Flight Deck and was produced by Nava Dance Theatre. This next iteration Broken Seeds/Taking Root will premiere March 29-31, 2019 at CounterPulse.
Livermore Production Program Link.
Creators/Directors: Nadhi Thekkek and Rupy C. Tut
Choreography: Nadhi Thekkek
Indian Miniature Painting/Calligraphy/Animation: Rupy C. Tut
Music Composition/Orchestration/Flautist: G. S. Rajan
Visual Art Projection: Darl Andrew Packard and Wolfgang Wachalovsky
Video and Editing: Kat Cole
Dancer Collaborators: Nadhi Thekkek, Shruti Abhishek, Lalli Venkat, Shelley Garg, Priyanka Raghuraman, Janai Muthaiya, Sanjana Melkote, Aishwarya Subramaniam
Musician Collaborators: G.S. Rajan, Sindhu Natarajan, Chris Evans, Anjana Rajan, Kesevan R
Narration: Rupy C. Tut