Amina Khayyam’s Catch the Bird Who Won’t Fly, a Kathak dance piece using animation and green screen is beautiful, subtle and moving despite its grim subject matter: domestic violence which has grown alarmingly during covid lockdown.
Fluttering or flailing hands warding off blows, expressive eyes and birds flying out of a woman’s mouth
Animations of fluttering or flailing hands warding off blows, expressive eyes and birds flying out of a woman’s mouth are intercut with only a few short real life images of a woman with bruised and bloodied face. The animation by Louise Rhoades-Brown successfully distances us from horror and allows us to appreciate the skill of the Kathak dancers, the varied tabla rhythms and soulful singing which are also a poignant, empathetic evocation of the women’s desperation.
The prestige in which Khayyam’s company is held is reflected in the international super stars she has attracted to this show: British-based Punjabi Rup Khatker, one of the most famous actresses in the world of Asian cinema, and British-based globally acclaimed Bangladeshi singers Lucy Rahman and Sohini Alam. Their soulful vocals and Khayyam’s bols (rhythmic mnemonic syllables) create an exquisite soundscape along with Debasish Mukerjee’s tabla.
Set in four different scenarios from the poorest homes to the wealthy: tower block, terrace, a comfortable garden suburb and a modernist contemporary house indicating that this crime takes place throughout society and though set in Asian homes in Britain it has global relevance.
Although Kathak dance usually includes footwork, we only see the women’s long skirts. The swaying bodies, waving arms and intricate hand movements of Amina Khayyam and Jane Chan are powerfully expressive and not least Khayyam’s abinhaya or facial expressions for which she is famed. Both dancers enact happier times as well as the nightmare present, and Khayyam in particular can play the welcoming hostess hiding what she considers her shame. The only male, Mithun Gill, (a rising dance star who has performed in one of Akram Khan’s films, The Curry House Kid) enacts mental stress with great sensitivity showing how this crime impacts on the children, powerless to help. A fourth scenario demonstrates the tragic outcome that can occur; the white outline on the floor of a murder victim. Skilful cutting from scene to scene, or using split screen the piece rises to a crescendo emphasised by the frenetic rhythm of the tabla followed by a peaceful finale as the bird, symbol perhaps of the soul, flies free into a blue sky.
Amina Khayyam’s company over the years has devoted itself to women’s voices who have been unheard or marginalized and this exquisite piece both laments but hopes to empower women through realizing they are not alone and they too can fly free.