It's often been said that you don't know where you're going until you understand where you came from, and for Australian-Indian choreographer and performer Raghav Handa, Tukre', a production that is part of the Dance Bites 2015 program at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta, provided the chance to pay homage to his Indian heritage through a narrative held together with movement and music.
Inspired by his family heirlooms and the craftsmen (jewellers) in his family, Raghav sought to represent these physical elements of his heritage into dance (the word tukre' means pieces in Hindi), and he does this well. "I wanted to see what sort of dance would emerge using the different movement elements of their artistry" Raghav explains.
He uses the sparseness of the stage to his advantage, where the space on stage becomes not a void to fill, but rather areas of breathing room. His use of light and shadows to highlight his movements were mesmerising, and credit here must also be given to the production's lighting designer Clytie Smith and dramaturg Martin del Amo for developing this vision with Raghav. One of the more memorable scenes from the performance was Raghav's hands dancing through the only beam of light on stage, mirroring the kind of tools used in an artisan's workshop.
In fact, Tukre' could be viewed as a study in human movement, because what Raghav does when he dances here is channel these workshop's machinery and turn them into items to be revered just as much as the heirlooms they create, thereby honouring the process of their creation. Raghav uses precise, almost staccato-like movements in some areas, and then long and fluid movements in other areas, all set against Lachlan Bostock's music. Simple tools are humanised in a way, so the audience, regardless of your familiarity of the objects, are just that much closer to Raghav's experience.
But at the end of the day, what drives this performance is the family element, and Raghav uses clips of his mother, thanks to projectionist Martin Fox, to celebrate her influence in his life. He uses a kind of conversation system with the mother projected onto the sheets to bring us closer to his family, like he was trying to get the audience to sit with him in his family's home, listening to her stories of her dowry, her dress, her customs. It's a gently moving element to the production, and one that doesn't seem trite or cheesy. It's good to see also that Raghav recognises the differences between marriage and rituals between his mother and himself.
Tukre' is haunting and loving, sweet but also grounded in its connection to a culture and family that has not broken ties to the here and now, and in fact, makes it even more relevant.