The Troth: A tale of love and the forgotten sacrifices of Indian soldiers during WWI

This article is from 2018

The Troth: Dance Akademi

credit: Simon Richardson

Choreographer Gary Clarke discusses the valuable history lessons he learned whilst designing this work of South Asian dance

Choreographer Gary Clarke is a storyteller whose chief tools of the trade are dance and theatre. He's been garlanded for his efforts too, receiving both a National Critics' Circle Dance Award and a UK Theatre Award on the back of his production COAL, a stirring entertainment based on the miners' strikes in the mid-80s.

It was the success of COAL that led directly to Clarke's invitation to create a show by the progressive, London-based South Asian dance organisation Akademi. 'Mira [Kaushik, Akademi's director] was struck by my ability to tell a story through dance,' he says, 'especially as she was looking for someone who could work with a story close to her heart.'

The Troth is a fictional tale of love and self-sacrifice set during World War I. Based on a classic Hindi short story dating from 1915, in Clarke and company's skilful hands it serves as the springboard for a poignant romance between a Sikh soldier and a woman (played by 2015's BBC Young Dancer finalist Vidya Patel) who will remain out of his reach.

Significantly, the show's historical foundation lies in an unjustly neglected and brutal fact: of the more than one million Indian soldiers who served in the Allied Forces 100 years ago, an estimated 60,000 lost their lives. 'When Mira first approached me, I was confused,' Clarke admits. 'I knew so little about Indian culture, World War I or South Asian dance.'

Intensive meetings with experts in Indian literature, dance and warfare eventually waylaid his qualms, allowing Clarke to put his own stamp on sensitive material. He's gone from being 'incredibly nervous' to 'incredibly proud,' mentioning audiences in India – where the show has already toured – chanting and clapping. 'I was told "Gary, you captured the heart of India". As a white British male, I didn't expect that.'

The Troth

  • 3 stars

Akademi A gripping story of love and loss set during World War One, blending dance, original music and archive film. Moving from rural Punjab to the Belgian trenches where young Indian men have been brought to fight for the Allies, we learn about the secret promise made by one soldier, Lehna Singh, as he makes the…