Archive and new silent film footage, an evocative soundscore and powerful dance tell a 100-year-old Hindi short story from World War I

Powerful dance theatre was on display to a sell out audience at The MAC last night, as The Troth told 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 told a 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 collaborated 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 included 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 is 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”.

Nisha Tandon OBE, Executive Director of ArtsEkta says: "We delighted to have  present this compelling performance from Akademi to mark the UK-India Year of Culture locally here in Belfast. Akademi are the UK's pioneers of South Asian dance who push artistic boundaries and bring new, exciting works to audiences. I would like to thank the Arts Council and Belfast City Council for enabling us to bring this show to Belfast to celebrate our unique cultural links with India”.

The show is part funded through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s National Lottery funds. Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development at the Arts Council, commented: “With support from the National Lottery, we are delighted to have been able to help bring this landmark production to Belfast audiences. Developed  in collaboration with some of the UK and India’s finest dance, drama and film creatives, it has been a pleasure to see this powerful work performed on stage at The Mac this evening.”

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.