Review: Seeta Patel, Not Today’s Yesterday

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Seeta Patel stars in this physical theatre piece as a storyteller. She takes us on a journey through exotified Bharatanatyam dance choreography to explore colonialism and the aftermath of it. Patel’s crystal-clear voiceover narrates the piece as she embodies the story through the use of mime and movement; sometimes mouthing along to her dialogue.

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Much like colonialism itself, the piece started sinister and rapid. The audience almost jumped from their seats when they heard the ominous music and saw Seeta appear under a single spotlight. Dressed in a fairy-tale blue, Patel begins the piece with animalistic gestures; the use of hands as birdwings, for example. Her movements are identifiable as Bharatanatyam (a traditional Indian style of dance), with the exception that the conventional geometric shapes are exaggerated, a homage to the theme of development.

Patel exotifies the choreography as much as colonialism does with certain cultures. The use of clothing and props brings the parody to light. There are many items utilised in the performance that initially start as a brown color but become whitewashed through the production with white paint. An example of this is the bundle of long plaited hair. The theme of plastic is apparent from the beginning of the piece. When Patel stands behind a translucent mirror, acting as a window of self-reflection, it forms a gateway into reality. The use of plastic geometric shapes was also fascinating, at times I saw them as constellations, and at other times they took the form of a ship or a tipi.

The highlight of the performance, however, was when Patel was painting the mirror white. The yogurt-like consistency of the liquid leisurely dripped as she walked across the screen. Her eyes were wide as she mouthed phrases under her breath. It disturbed me. This was probably the only time throughout the piece where the voiceover wasn’t heard, and her characteristics became almost demonic. Another moment worth mentioning is towards the end of the piece when she dances like a child across the stage. She glides satirically to classical music while covered in white paint and plastic. This aspect emphasized not only the exploitation of race but also the exploitation of the earth and its limited resources. Alongside this, the robotic sounds added to the industrial aesthetic of the piece.

The start of the piece tricks you into believing that the performance will be delicate and cautious, however, much like any fable, the story ends with an important lesson; a warning that humans are power-hungry and corrupt. The piece inspires you to explore the realities of history further, knowing that although we cannot change the past, we can certainly learn from it.

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