13 Apr 2024

Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra in Mehek

Mehek is a production that takes particularly fine ingredients and conjures a spellbinding take on love…

Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra in Mehek. Picture © Foteini Christofilopoulou.Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra in Mehek. Picture © Foteini Christofilopoulou.

Aditi Mangaldas & Aakash Odedra
London, Sadler’s Wells
12 April 2024

Mehek is a stunningly deep collaboration between two of the finest and most questioning of contemporary Kathak dancers - Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra. The subhead is that it is the taboo’ love story between an older woman and a younger man, and although not their story, there is piquancy from the fact she is aged 64 and he is not yet 40. Judged purely on their dancing, you wouldn’t know it, and it feels like a meeting of equals at the top of their game, secure technically and able to play freely with their emotions and their artistry at another level. I was absolutely spellbound by a night that explores love, and all the feelings it engenders, in much more universal and otherworldly ways than the subhead might imply.

The piece starts with Odedra reflecting a beam of light around the auditorium and across the stage. And as the reflections multiply, you become aware of Tina Tzoka’s darkly mysterious set of mirrored shards. Some shards are floating and mobile, others more substantial - you can read them as reflections of different ideas, attitudes and a world of thoughts that stalk the actions below and around them. Throughout the 70 minutes, the interactions with Fabiana Piccioli’s sophisticated lighting rig are magical and add to the visual kinetics. Particularly so at the end, where Odedra sculpts and controls the light beam energy and his powerful emotions.

High and behind the set are the four musicians, drummers Ashish Gangani, Faraz Ahmed and Hiren Chate, along with vocalist Nicki Wells, who created the score and overall sound design. The musicians are often shrouded in darkness, but they occasionally come more centre stage, for me emphasising the leaps and changes of emotion. The drumming punctuates and leads the action while the vocals hang like a chiffon gauze that cleverly tones the stage dance. Nicki Wells is a name new to me, but at times, I heard haunting Enya-like vocals, and her website neatly sums up what she brings …intertwining Indian classical, Celtic folk, eastern European choral…” If you have yet to get the impression that the set, lighting and music/sounds are stunning in their own right, then I have failed.

There is no strict plot to Mehek, but you do see the lovers’ growing friendship and initial playful attraction. There are notable solos for each, his confidently expansive and hers thoughtfully doubting and signalling a mind not wholly at ease. Things progress in what is a deep and romantic love - banish all thoughts of smut and explicit lustfulness. That said, both dancers openly admit that it breaks barriers in depicting sex - something that would never usually be seen in a Kathak performance. What you see is a natural and loving touch, but more overt sex itself is not openly shown as the stage goes dark and a flurry of drumming leaves things to your imagination. It all feels respectful and natural - and age plays no part.

But after the consummation, she becomes full of doubts, and he feels the pain of loss. But they seem to move on and inhabit a swirling world of memories and perhaps a more profound cerebral love - the end is unclear, and you can read it so many ways. I’d like to see the show again, and I’m sure would uncover more. Certainly, what I saw moved me very much.

Love is a many-splendored thing, and Mehek oh so magically reminds us of this, regardless of our age and background.