Asian Music and Dance

Shaping Dance – Summer Choreography Courses

Pulse reports on two significant programmes aimed at helping South Asian dance artists explore the thought processes that go into shaping dance. South East Dance ran their first ChoreoLAB in July 2011 while Kadam crystallised their fourth year of looking into the creative process in Unlocking Creativity.

Here, Chris Fogg, who was the Creative Producer involved in setting up the ChoreoLAB, leads with reflections on the aims of the LAB and how these played out at the week-long residency in Eastleigh. Toronto-based dance practitioner, scholar and innovator, Hari Krishnan has been a tutor throughout Kadam’s creative courses. His write-up will follow in our spring issue in March 2012.

What does it mean to be a South Asian choreographer making new work in England in the twenty-first century? This was the central question underpinning the South East Dance’s summer ChoreoLAB. The course arose in acknowledgement of the rapid expansion of the South Asian dance field which has seen the organisation support more and more artists in the field. ChoreoLAB was delivered in partnership with The Point, Eastleigh following consultations with Akademi, Kadam and sampad. 

“…feedback on movement, concept and aesthetics was high on his (Shane’s) agenda.”

Participating artists included Ankur Bahl, Kali Chandrasegaram, Hetain Patel, Urja Desai Thakore, Shane Shambhu and Anusha Subramanyam and, prior to the course, they were invited to take part in a series of consultations to determine the focus and emphasis of the week. A stimulating set of conversations laid the foundations for an ongoing creative dialogue. When asked about their hopes for the ChoreoLAB, Hetain Patel answered with what was perhaps a typical response: “A chance to learn about other practitioners’ working methods and in particular their questioning,” but this spirit of enquiry underpinned the attitudes of all the artists. Shane Shambhu highlighted how feedback on movement, concept and aesthetics was high on his agenda. 

The artists began to question the idea of direction, when making contemporary work from a classical South Asian dance tradition. Urja Desai, who is in the process of researching for her new work, Detox, hoped that the ChoreoLAB would help her to find a way of removing the layers of her kathak training – a detoxification, if you like, of her choreographic method to uncover a new movement vocabulary. Patel said: “I want to explore the question of how classical South Asian dance forms are relevant to us, as makers, and in turn how an audience relates to them in a contemporary context.” 

The artists expressed desires to work with actors, to make work for non-conventional performance spaces, to free themselves from their usual working methods, but to do so in the safe environment of a closed studio where they could critique each other’s work – supported experimentation. To this end, South East Dance offered each artist the chance to bring their own dancer with them, while also providing three advanced, versatile contemporary dancers who would agree to offer themselves as the raw materials for the choreographers to experiment with. Kali brought with him Thomas Goodwin; Shane invited Kate Mummery; while Ankur brought along the writer and actress Rina Fatania. South East Dance brought in three dancers from Tavaziva Dance – Katie Cambridge, Petros Treklis and Shelly Maxwell – who worked tirelessly throughout the week to help each artist realise their ideas.

Cath James, an internationally renowned dancer who has worked with Rambert and Siobhan Davies Company, was invited to carry out the role of course facilitator. That she has worked with many extraordinary choreographers and created her own work assured South East Dance that Cath would bring a balance of provocation, interrogation, inspiration and experimentation with her to ChoreoLAB. Furthermore, these qualities were previously identified by the participating artists as vital to support their lines of enquiry. Cath provided a neutral voice which allowed her to focus on the choreographic practice in the studio – perhaps because she doesn’t come from a South Asian dance tradition meant that she was free from any preconceived notions of Indian classicism which might have held back the artists’ enquiry at this point in their creative journeys.

“…Cath would bring a balance of provocation, interrogation, inspiration and experimentation.”

Cath commented on the ChoreoLAB experience, saying that: “They [the artists] were certainly aware of their heritage and of course it had an impact on what they were doing, but in no way were they defined by this. Perhaps that definition comes from outside of themselves, how they are labelled by other organisations in the industry. 

“The week flew by in a blur of classes, creative sessions, strongly contested debate and late-night discussions. Issues were raised about how and where to present work and the choreographer’s responsibility to his or her audience and funders. Very interesting. Very intense – it would be fantastic to do this with more artists across the UK.”

Class was followed by the setting of specific choreographic tasks by Cath, after which each artist was allotted time in a studio, either by themselves or with one or more of their dancers, plus additional time to discuss their ideas with Cath (and with Chris Fogg) in more detail. The week culminated in an informal sharing of the work created by each artist to a small invited audience of peers, stakeholders, policy-makers and opinion-formers, with the invitation for each of them to engage in a series of conversations with each artist as they introduced and presented their work. 

“– the presentations were all strong conceptually.”

Sanjeevini Dutta of Kadam, who attended the sharing, said: “I particularly enjoyed the variety of approaches and techniques that the choreographers employed. Shane’s passion for putting across narrative; Kali’s rope piece defined by the restrictions of the prop; Urja’s specific explorations of the relationship between manipulator and manipulated; Hetain’s clever questionings into what makes identity – the presentations were all strong conceptually.”

Jan de Schynkel from the Arts Council observed that: “This kind of opportunity [ChoreoLAB] provides the space for reflection and debate – a platform for artistic risks and new ideas which are the lifeblood of the industry. It has been made possible by a very welcoming partnership between several organisations for the benefit of the broader sector.” 

Anusha Subramanyam began the ChoreoLAB by saying: “I am at a place where I need to clarify, understand and learn.” This phrase became a watchword for all the artists during the week and, by the end of it, they went away agreeing that they had each, in their own individual ways, clarified, understood and learned something very particular for themselves. What will be especially interesting now will be to see how each of the artists adopts these lessons into their future practice. South East Dance is therefore tracking each of the artists to continue to test out what the benefits of ChoreoLAB have been for them, so that the opportunity can continue to be refined, modified and improved for subsequent editions.

All the artists who participated in ChoreoLAB are being profiled in Pulse by Donald Hutera. So far Kali Chandrasegaram was featured in Pulse 113 and Shane Shambhu in Pulse 114.



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