Edinburgh Fringe 2022
A bare stage becomes filled with musicians who once lit, take their place stage right. Our performer, Kathak artist Amina Khayyam, gracefully arrives and her interaction with the haunting melody first with cello, then voice and then percussion underpins the trauma and conflict evident in the spinning movement, the bells which were chains and the final liberation of a woman who should never have been held back in the first place. All of this takes place in a studio space which is intimate and allows Khayyam to interact with the others in her drama in a physical sense close to us. It is a dance piece filled with tradition but struggles through with modern ideals and issues in a creative and surprising manner.
In the year in which we lost Peter Brook I was reminded of the power of an Empty Stage instantly by this. There is a subtle and yet visceral narrative at play which draws you into its orbit and then brings the darkness into light. I am no expert in Kathak, but I did not need to be. It was as obvious as the day is long that the dual patterns of oppressor and oppressed were being played out. It was a vision to see and a beauty to hear.
The key for me was the subtlety in which each element spoke. It was not about shouting from the rooftops but showing the ebb and flow of the fluidity of performance. But the voice that came from the singing was, without any shadow of any doubt the most haunting I have heard for some time. It carried pain and it suggested suffering. It managed to eclipse that most sorrowful of instruments, the Cello, at its most contemplative.
I loved the use of theatre arts and the begging scene made me both uncomfortable and included. It reminded me of how to have anything in life many have first to prove their worth. And yet, there is little worth in begging. It asked and provoked responses throughout.
Amina Khayyam’s performance was, one to gaze at with unremitting awe. Here the use of the bells to signify chains was a simple and effective entry into the behaviours then exhibited whilst the chains held your ankles to their ground. When they were released from oppression, the dance lightened and heightened my pleasure.
There were a couple of issues about how the lighting followed at the beginning of the piece but by the time we were getting the gobos and the effects onstage it was part of a past already learnt.
As a hymn to how we ought to change for our migrants this was elegiac. As an entry into Khayyam and her craft she reminded me of one genius of the theatre. She may not quite have been elevated to that level but there were elements of her performance which evoked comparisons.