Photo: Malcolm Johnson

Dance of any style and genre fascinates me, but my background is contemporary – rooted from my training at London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) and at The Martha Graham School in New York (MGDS).  Today, I teach Graham based technique classes at Eliot Smith Dance (ESD), alongside developing my own movement language, which inform my own choreographic works.

My formal training at the London Contemporary Dance School included ballet, Cunningham, and floor-work alongside contextual studies.  However, my fascination grew for the Martha Graham technique, which led me to meet The Late Sir Robert Cohan and study for a short time at The Martha Graham School in New York.  Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer, and recognised as a primal artistic force of the 20th century; alongside Picasso, James Joyce, Stravinsky, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Martha’s unique dance vocabulary evolved over the years to meet her changing choreographic needs, but was eventually codified into a standard syllabus, and now Graham-based movement is taught in studios around the world.  The Graham technique is based on the contraction and release, a concept based on the breathing cycle and the spiralling of the torso around the axis of the spine.  This particular technique captivated me, because with Graham, the best part is having a place that is kind of like your home – a place where you can develop your art, develop yourself and the identity of who you are. . .  A place where you can exercise your craft and go deeper.

During secondary school, a fellow pupil began teaching me basic Bhangra routines – the music and dance were energetic.  This, combined with the costumes and its rich culture, sparked my curiosity of South Asian dance.  An experience that remained with me throughout my formal dance training and into my professional career.  This led me to find out more about some of the UK’s South Asian dance artists, and Balbir Singh was one of them.  I found his story of moving to the UK with his parents from India and then later training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance intriguing. . .

In 2018, I had the opportunity to meet Balbir through Billingham International Folk Festival (BIFF).  We later collaborated for the BIFF 2019 events.  This evolved into ESD commissioning Balbir to create a new work for ESD’s growing repertoire.  The result is I am not an Indian dancer?, funded by Arts Council England Lottery Project Grants.  The project included the chance for me to dance the work with ESD’s guest dancer Sooraj Subramaniam and an original piece of music by Jesse Bannister.  The piece was collaboratively created in a short but intensive time, and premiered as part of an ESD Double Bill at The Sage Gateshead in Autumn 2019.

Not only was this a new approach for ESD to program a piece of work which involved South Asian dance, but it was a new experience for ESD’s audience to be transported to a mystical place.  A rich, cultural exchange using movement as the language, amplified by the music and curiosity of two male bodies from the same world but from two different cultures.

For me, it was a gathering.  A chance to experience a coming together.  A chance to witness the crossovers between these two styles of dance.  Ones that are symbiotic with each other, and yet branch out into different channels, but are born from one tree. Equal.

In terms of movement vocabulary and technique between Kathak and contemporary (Graham based), and from the view of me dancing alongside Sooraj is many.

The first being, how we approach the work, the respect for each other and the space we are in. . .

Feet pressed into the floor/earth, ready and daring.

The spine growing and lengthening – Kathak standing – contemporary sitting.

Detailed use of hand gesture.

Animalistic movements sometimes with facial expression and eye movements.

Multiple turns – Kathak on the heal – contemporary on the ball of the foot.  Rhythmic and musical

A sense of elevation – jumps for contemporary.

Story telling – sometimes quiet – the use of breath.

Creating a divine space – Kathak and its historical link to temples – contemporary chased back to Ruth St Denis introducing eastern ideas into the art in the West, Martha Graham teacher. . .

Dancing this work is an honour – a chance to rediscover.  Not just to reproduce what someone else did, but to explore my identity as a human and a dancer.  From Graham’s aesthetic and its nexus with Kathak – taking me back to my first encounter to South Asian dance and it’s culture.