Not Today’s Yesterday is an international collaboration between UK Bharatanatyam-trained dancer, Seeta Patel and South Australian-based choreographer Lina Limosani. Patel is the sole performer in the work and commands the stage for its full fifty-minute duration.
The black box walls of Holden Street Theatres’ The Studio form a blank canvas for Limosani’s vision, and the show is filled with beautiful imagery. In the first act, moveable panels of translucent plastic are arranged meticulously to a narrated tale of colonial invasion, and Patel delicately braids strands of hanging cord, quietly counting classical rhythms to herself. A large pane of plastic is daubed with paint to opaqueness, a literal and metaphorical whitewashing of the show’s central set piece, and the main contention of the performance.
Australian contemporary dance audiences last saw Patel performing in Lloyd Newson’s verbatim theatre piece, Can We Talk About This? back in 2011 at the now defunct Spring Dance Festival in Sydney. While Not Today’s Yesterday also features a text track, it is not delivered by Patel. Instead, she mimes portions of the text while performing archetypal Bharatanatyam abhinaya. The overly stylized elements of classical nritya sometimes feel at odds with the subtlety that is central to Limosani’s work and raises the question as to why, as in Newsom’s work, Patel doesn’t speak the text herself.
Similarly, while impressive, the exaggerated facial expressions of classical training can, as the piece continues, become distracting, even disingenuous. The meticulous control with which Patel performs hand choreographies is mesmerising, however. Subtle, well-executed stagecraft stand out overall and the limited lighting rig is used to excellent effect.
Limosani has utilized Patel’s strict classical movement training to well-crafted narrative effect. The show as a whole feels slightly incomplete, however. Tackling something as delicate as the whitewashing of indigenous cultures requires a refinement of the central propositions of the work. In the climactic scene, Patel dons a plastic gown and pantomimes a Victorian-era colonial apologist, a theatrical ploy that feels a less thought-provoking conclusion to what is an altogether powerful work.
Not Today’s Yesterday has moments of great lucidity, and both Limosani and Patel are authoritative contemporary makers. Not Today’s Yesterday is an important work and recommended to those interested in cross-cultural arts practice, dance theatre and superb solo performance.
Not Today’s Yesterday was performed at The Studio at Holden Street Theatres and contnues there until March 15.