Sangeetham: A Festival Of Indian Dance And Music, Sadler's Wells, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The curtain rises on the Bollywood star Hariharan, standing with his band against a glowing yellow backdrop. There are whoops from the audience, and the Sangeetham festival finally clicks into focus. There's a contradiction here. Sangeetham is a celebration of Indian classical dance and music. Hariharan was here because he's a traditional musician as well as a film star, but a dose of showbiz was long overdue.

Sangeetham had other charismatic performers, but fell down badly on organisation, with some artists cancelling because work permits hadn't been arranged. The festival's untidiness showed up on stage, with many performances lacking pace. Recitals took a lecture-demonstration format. It's worth explaining the stories and motifs of the songs and dances, but these introductions made dry listening. Worse, the Sadler's Wells stage and auditorium often felt too big for these dances. The close link between musician and dancer is easier to follow in an intimate space.

The Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan ended the first recital with a series of rhythm games, swapping patterns with her musicians. It was then that she seemed least accessible, least directed to her audience. She didn't draw us into those rhythms, and took time to work up a rapport with her band. In longer dances, using the whole stage, Narayan tends to blur her poses, losing definition in the torso.

Yet there were lovely moments. Coming to the front of the stage, Narayan hitches up bright silk skirts to show off her drumming heels, ankle bells jingling. Softening the sound to a whisper, or bringing it up in a rolling crescendo, she's at her most fun. Indian dance is full of storytelling, and Narayan gave a vivid picture of a rain scene. Pointed fingers describe spattering raindrops, arms curl into billowing clouds.

Odissi dancer Sujata Mohapatra was the most accomplished dancer I saw. The Odissi style makes fluid lines out of extreme angles: hips are tilted, torsos curved. Statues on Indian temples show impossibly sinuous dancers: watching Odissi, you realise the sculptors weren't exaggerating.

The festival's last day was the most popular, with a larger audience coming to see Hariharan in a mix of classical and modern songs. His "Urdu blues", played with the fusion band Earth'n'Beat, rests Indian vocals on middle-of-the-road rock beats, but he has a warm voice and a genial presence.