Asian Music and Dance

‘Mum … what’s my gam?’

Journeys carry baggage, as do identities. What is to be said of journeys made by foreparents passing on conflicting identities as an inheritance? Porkpie Dance Theatre’s director Anaish Parmar looks to his family history book for a soul-searching answer.

Parmar begins his adventure at the centre of a white-lit box; beside him is a suitcase. Lifting his shoulders, as a bird embarking into flight, his arms span out, circulating – his thoughts a whirlwind, the journey beyond him. He elevates slightly, pausing, as would anyone taking on an adventure of a lifetime. The depth of each moment in every movement is drawn out with an apprehensive breath, lifting his chest; opening his heart to embrace the uncertainties evoked by leaving one’s homely cultural setting for a foreign one.

This space is shared with Somita Basak who, as his duet-iful partner, supports his movement and takes him out of this marked comfort zone. Clutching his baggage they exit. Within a transitionary dimness, an audio conversation between Parmar and his mother takes place. His Leicestershire accent, light and alive, is honest in its questioning. This mother- and-son chat, exploring ancestral roots, is sweet. Parmar gives sense to the title of this work: Mum … what’s my gam? – referring to the village (‘gam’) his family originates from, rather than the leg of a swine.

Parmar next gives the baggage to Basak, who empties it to replace the void with a statue of Lord Ganesh. She delicately invokes the god with bharatanatyam phrasing. There’s an Indian cinematic innocence in her projection, which aptly anticipates the direction next taken by Parmar: sitcom-ville comedy.

Progressing through an animated journey on screen, the migration route from India via East Africa passing London to Melton Mowbray, the big move takes place. Parmar and Basak storm onto the stage shrieking at the ‘so bloody cold’ weather of England, each with a bag of chips.

The following sketches of this narrative are played in the same comical manner, so that imported and first-generation Brit-Asians are likely to laugh at themselves.

However, has this story been told before? The difficulties of growing up and making a home away from ancestral homelands provided the material for the celebrated antics during the 1990s in British TV’s first Asian comedy programme Goodness Gracious Me. Two decades on, contemporary British-Asian performance is still carrying the lightweight baggage of this theme. Parmar’s choice to address this as a contemporary issue suggests either that it still remains one: the multi-tasking skill of pleasing diversifying cultural demands – so, let’s poke fun at it; or, a suggestion that it does not need to be one – a nagging issue, so let’s move on.

His choice of narrative devices leans more on conventional theatre than on physical theatre. There is an abundance of instances where much is said in dialogue rather than non-verbal communication. His story is clean in its flow and each scene connects easily with the next; and his ability to engage ideas and their expression is entertaining. He uses his skill in comic timing, and the dramatisation of personal life experiences into performance is a joy. But the brief moment of movement architecture at the work’s introduction is not sufficient. A failing is that Parmar did not continue dancing, as he is well-equipped with an expansive physical vocabulary that can tell any story. Also, having Basak’s bharatanatyam as a fine tool with which to collaborate makes its under-use on his part a grave oversight in not pushing the language of dance to lead the discourse in this matter.

Parmar succeeds in his light-heartedness but it is not enough given the glimpses of his thoughts and the promise of their execution. The magic of this piece lies in the simple recordings of him and his mother talking. Their everyday content, their regularity, does not require a microscopic analysis of ‘what is no longer’ or ‘where things are heading’; they just present the purpose of every human relationship: to listen, to voice, to relate and to be as people are. And in the event of conflicting states, the resolution is a clear one: look within. And rejoice.



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