Rare, raw & exhilarating: Shiamak Davar’s Selcouth is a visual treat

Selcouth, according to Shiamak Davar, means ‘rare,’ and the performance his group put on under that name is certainly that. Rare, as in rarely has something as ambitious and accomplished been seen on the Indian stage.

By Anil Dharker

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Contemporary dance has now been around for over four decades. Brought in by lone pioneers like Astad Deboo, it is practiced by a small number of groups which survive because their rarity value ensures a certain number of corporate entertainment programmes every month. Most of these groups are quite abysmal, lacking in both conceptualisation and execution. I wasn’t a fan of Deboo either, but in recent years his working to Indian themes rather than abstract movements, plus his effort to bring in fusion between Indian classical dance forms and contemporary dance, has resulted in some quite remarkable works.

Shiamak Davar himself has been through the rigorous grind of classical ballet under the watchful eye of Tushna Dallas, another Parsi like him. After he finished his formal training, he embraced contemporary dance, and soon started a school to impart training in it. This has been a huge success story, with classes mushrooming everywhere, and hundreds of students enrolled all over the place.

The reason for this must be threefold: First, there were the students who joined for the sheer love of dancing; second, men and women who joined because this was an enjoyable form of aerobic exercise; third, it opened doors in Bollywood which always needed good dancers for the ‘chorus line’ that surrounds the hero and heroine. Davar’s own major appearance on the stage was years ago, when he — in top hat and

cane — sang and dance old Broadway numbers.

Nothing in that CV prepared you for Selcouth, presented last week in collaboration with NCPA to a packed Jamshed Bhabha Theatre. Quite simply, it is the best exhibition of contemporary dance that an Indian group has done. Not just that — and how often can one say this — the show can take its place amongst the best shows anywhere in the world.

This is achieved by having a very large group of dancers on the stage (I couldn’t count, so frenetic was the pace. My guess would be 30 men and women), dancers who were spectacularly athletic, unbelievably flexible and who had been rehearsed again and again and still again, so that they achieved a level of precision and timing which you would only see on Broadway.

What also surprised me also were the imaginative concepts and choreography which conveyed as only good modern dance can do, the angst, anxiety and alienation of the modern world. The best comtemporary dance rarely goes into sunny territory (though the Pilobolus company and the Nederland Dance Theatre have done really witty pieces): the dance form’s staccato movements, often verging on the jerky, are best able to convey the anguish of today’s world rather than its pleasures. Selcouth did that: it was dire, full of doom and ominous forebodings, and mighty effective in conveying these emotions. These dark feelings were reduced, however, because the audience was constantly wowed by the sheer physicality of the dancers.