On the 26th October at Dance City, ‘The Magic Fish’ was performed by ATMA Dance; a London-based dance company formed in 2009 by choreographer and performer Mayuri Boonham. The piece combined the classical South Asian dance form of Bharatanatyam alongside contemporary influences, merged beautifully with a stunning soundscape and minimalistic stage. The 1pm performance was created in a relaxed environment, with softer lights and quieter sounds, making it easier for children with autism and learning difficulties to watch and enjoy. After knowing and working alongside children with learning difficulties for a while, it was refreshing and welcoming to see an innovative, inclusive production that was welcoming to all without being restricting or condescending.
Based on a classic Indian tale, ‘The Magic Fish’ followed the story of Vishnu, Hindu god of preservation and restoration, and his wish to defeat the greedy demon No-Knowledge, who had been consuming and stealing all of the treasures of the world. Vishnu transforms himself into a tiny, magical fish and seeks the assistance of the kind King Manu, asking him to build a boat and fill it with the treasures of the world so that life may continue after Vishnu floods the world to destroy the demon. The tale was told through a combination of dance, music, mime, narration and audience participation, each element of production working seamlessly alongside each other to fully immerse every audience member.
The audience seemed particularly captivated by the show’s use of sound, particularly during the scene when King Manu “bathed” in the river (symbolised by an enormous, flowing cloth at the front of the stage that shimmered like sunlight bouncing off real water). Energetic mime was combined with Marv Radio’s (King Manu) jaw-droppingly gifted beatboxing skills, bringing smiles and laughs from adult and child alike as the splashing, running water was simulated rhythmically. Similarly, these beatboxing skills were coupled gorgeously with Kamala Devam’s fish-like dancing as Vishnu and King Manu became acquainted later in the tale.
When the god and king’s boat was being created, audience members were invited onstage to compile the boat themselves, as the performers organised a giggling mass of children into the shape of a ship, even having one stand at each end as the bow and the stern. Perhaps the most charming and entertaining part of the performance came when the children who were brought onstage were asked what they believed were the most treasured items in the world to be brought onto King Manu’s boat. Eager hands shot into the air and every suggestion was counted; trees, animals, food, water, plants and, of course, penguins being important enough to deserve a category of their own. This came as a wholesome reminder of the natural elements of life that we may take for granted as we get older, but that children would still consider to be “treasure”.
The word “Atma” itself is derived from the Hindu term “atman”, relating to an individual’s soul; the true self and essence that underlies our existence. This could not be more apt for a show such as ‘The Magic Fish’ which truly celebrates the creative, unique minds of every child in the audience, from using minimalistic theatrical techniques and leaving much to the imagination to crafting some of the plot out of their own ideas and suggestions.