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Dance theatre from Akademi tells a 100-year-old Hindi story from World War I

20 Nov 2017

Akademi’s ‘The Troth’. Image: Simon Richardson

Akademi’s new international dance theatre production, The Troth, choreographed by Gary Clarke, is to premiere at Jaipur Literature Festival, 26 January 2018.

Through powerful dance theatre, The Troth tells a story of love, loss and sacrifice against the backdrop of the horror and conflict of World War I. Inspired by film noir and the era of black-and-white films, The Troth weaves its poignant narrative through dance, music and film.

Based on Chandradhar Sharma Guleri’s iconic Hindi short story Usne Kaha Tha, The Troth is about one soldier, Sardar Lehna Singh, and the sacrifice he makes to keep his secret promise to an unrequited love whilst mid-conflict in the horror of the trenches of Belgium.

Over 1.3 million Indians contributed active service over the course of World War I and were the largest voluntary force ever assembled. Their losses were staggering. The Troth reveals the contribution and human cost of Indian soldiers to the allied war effort. British Armed Forces have advised the creative team on military training, movement, aesthetics and music of the period

Award-winning director and choreographer Gary Clarke is acclaimed for his compelling works of narrative dance theatre, most recently with COAL based on the miners’ strike. Clarke’s emotionally direct and physical approach to storytelling and character is notable in contemporary dance.

For The Troth he collaborates with dramaturg Lou Cope to tell the soldier’s story, using archive wartime footage and new subtitled films by Josh Hawkins to unfold the narrative. They set the scene for viscerally powerful dance from six dancers of diverse backgrounds and training within an evocative soundscape created by BASCA award-winner Shri Sriram who laces his original composition with sounds from World War I and Indian folk music.

The cast includes Kathak dancer Vidya Patel, finalist in BBC Young Dancer of the Year 2015 who has recently performed to great acclaim with Richard Alston Dance Company.

The Troth marks the centenaries of World War I (1914-18), Indian cinema (1913) and the first Hindi short story (1915). It is rooted in the most recent academic research and in-depth cultural exchange. Leading academics and experts who have contributed to the project are Amarjit Chandan (Poet and academic), Dr Santanu Das (literary specialist and historian at Kings College London specialising in World War I), Tripurari Sharma (Professor of Acting at the National School of Drama, Delhi) and Ashok Sagar Bhagat (Professor of Theatre Architecture at the National School of Drama, Delhi) and Jasdeep Singh (Community Curator, National Army Museum).

Mira Kaushik OBE, Director of Akademi, says:

Usne Kaha Tha is a classic of Hindi literature, loved by millions. Our production will be a powerful ‘living silent film’, and is Akademi’s first theatre show after nearly 20 years of primarily outdoor performances. This Indo-UK artistic collaboration has galvanised partners from both countries – including Arts Council England, British Council, the Government of India’s Ministries of Culture and External Affairs, and the British Army – to reveal the vital contribution made by Indian soldiers to World War I.”

Lt. Col Jo Young, the British Army’s Officer for the Arts, says: “The British Army is thrilled to be supporting the production of The Troth. It tells a vital piece of World War I history and speaks volumes about shared heritage. Army musicians are involved in the sound score, contributing military themes and authenticity to the fantastic composition by Shri, and soldiers are working with the dancers to assist them in the portrayal of drill, PT and movement under fire.”

Akademi has been commissioned by The Space to release a digital film of The Troth, which will enable the show to reach a global audience.

The UK premiere of The Troth will take place at Curve, Leicester, on 21 February 2018. Its UK tour will continue until 16 March. It is part of the UK-India Year of Culture and Re-imagine India.