The Sadler’s Wells and Royal Albert Hall Co-production of the Nitin Sawhney show is a well-staged, yet at times slow-moving, celebration of the music of this famous composer and instrumentalist. It is a one-off performance, following the release of his latest album Dystopian Dream.
The concert creates a tranquil and dreamlike atmosphere, as Sawhney’s music at times sounds almost psychedelic. It is performed by the composer himself and his musicians, with synchronised and generally well-selected visual images projected onto a split screen in the background. The images of fire and almost hypnotising, dance-like smoke; birds peacefully flying into the sunset; abstract geometrical forms flashing in front of our eyes – all of these seem to reflect the very nature of Sawhney’s music, which is at times quite dark and balances on the border between the genres of jazz, soul and gentle rock-and-roll, mingled with a distinctive Indian influence.
At times his show reminds me of that by the Russian singer and song writer Boris Grebenshchikov, which was held at the Royal Albert Hall two years ago, and in which the tradition of rock was combined with Indian themes, as the artist travelled the Orient widely and found inspiration in Buddhism.
Buddhist themes are also evident in Nitin Sawhney’s performance, especially towards the end of the show, when compositions sung in Hindi are complemented by images of an Indian beggar, an old Indian man at prayer, a powerful close-up of his eyes, poor Indian children and a long shot of a hand rotating a pod of pepper and creating an almost meditative atmosphere.
The fusion of different styles in Nitin Sawhney’s music is also reflected in the wide range of musical instruments used in his concert; the electric guitar and drums are joined by the flute and the less well-known instrument called the hang, that highlights the gentle quality and soulfulness of the music.
The lead vocals and the chorus are quite varied, with a wide range of well-blended voices. Joss Stone stands out amongst them in giving a performance that truly justifies the term “soul” which often describes her music.
The whole composition of the show would be quite static and trance-like, if not for the main special guests of the show – the dance duo Wang Ramirez. Their energetic and lively performances reveal distinctive narratives hidden in Natin Sawhney’s music.
The duo’s two fiery performances in the show are given to the accompaniment of songs and are captivating in their expression of emotion. The dancers, Honji Wang and Sèbastien Ramirez, reveal the tension and struggle of love and the changing balances in a relationship. In the first dance the woman is almost aggressive and domineering and plays with the man as if with a puppet on a string, throwing him into the air and bouncing him off the floor like a ball, but a few moments later he is in command of her, dictating the movements of her head and body. At the end they dance together like one strange living creature. In their second dance the joint movements of their arms resemble the flight of a flock of birds and their dance turns into a story of attraction and rejection.
The performance by the dance duo becomes the high point of the concert and a true revelation to the audience, who reward their two dances with generous and prolonged applause.