Photo: Robert Bloomfield

Reflections on bringing my teacher and guru together for Learning to Dance

by Balbir Singh

The idea

Where do my ideas come from? I have no idea, but I guess there is a logic to wanting to bring together two massively significant characters that have impacted on my development as an artist. Namron at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance – it was a wonderful three years under his guidance. Then, after graduating, being taught by and becoming a disciple of Padmashri Pratap Pawar and embarking on a journey into Kathak.

The thought process around having the two of them on stage together is similar to how I always make work: a strong concept, lightly placed in the abstract. Then came the question of what to call the piece, and Learning to Dance seemed to naturally suggest itself. These two global legends in the world of dance stripping it all back to learning the artform, their journey with it, and their teaching of dance.

What it felt like making the work

I constantly put myself outside my comfort zone in terms of challenging myself artistically with each piece I make so I don’t get nervous. However on this one I was a little bit nervous. It was an honour and privilege to have two such giants agree to work with me and trust me to create a new piece of work that was very different to anything either of them had done before. In the Indian dance world especially, for a Guru to have work made on them by a disciple is a rarity.

The sense of responsibility if I thought about it too much was massive. It was brave of them both to enter the studio and let me lead on trying to realise what was in my mind.

The learning

The learning was enormous on so many levels, from figuring out how to make sense of the overall concept, how to make it work in reality, how to pace time in the studio and find the best process to bring it to life, working with two dancers in their 70s where there was uncertainty about what they might be able to remember, how they might be able to relate to each other.

Working musically with composer Jesse Bannister and an outstanding team of musicians, was a delight – and also high level dancers Sooraj Subramaniam and Johnny Autin who acted as ‘echoes’ of the lasters’ younger selves. I sometimes say if you get your casting right, half your job is done before you start to realise the creative vision.

I say usually when I am doing something new that initially it may not make any sense and not work, but that is the challenge of trying something new. It never gets any easier, you just get used to it being difficult, and then miss it if you aren’t working in that way.

There was a point in the process at the end of a day of rehearsals Pratap and Namron were chatting and out of the conversation came a realisation that the following day was both their birthdays. The fact that they shared the same birthday had never before occurred to any of us. My response to this was – it was my destiny to bring the two of them together.

Explore the process

A lost art?
A bridge to India
Immersed in music
When Worlds Collide
The Idea (learning to dance)
Natural curiosity and questions (learning to dance)
Composer thoughts on Learning to Dance
In the presence of geniuses
The story (love and spice)
A dancer reflects on The Strategists (1)
Overview of The Strategists
Breakdown of The Strategists
Roundness of 12: a breakdown of the piece
Breakdown of the piece (love and spice)
Script (12)
Painter research
A dancer reflects on Love and Spice
Full Contact – highlights from the script
Dancer notes performance (flatlands)
Peacock Lake – genesis of the concept
Firing up the Mehfil Machine
The Collaborators
Creative Case – challenges along the way
The Guru-Shishya relationship
What is Kathak?
Life blood
Collaboration: Balbir & Gary
Colouring your emotions
Covid-19 Update on Monday, April 6th, 2020
Creative Case in action – July to September 2019
Finding my way in The Creative Spirit of John Curry
Talent Development – Abirami Eshwar
Talent Development – Kimberley Hardy
Collaborators: Lorna Brown and Gary Beacom
The Work: Act 1
The Work: Act 2
Planning the show
The 8 Dances
Who was Hans Krebs?
The Citric 
 Acid cycle
Balbir’s thoughts behind the work
Balbir on developing the work
Amrita Sher-Gil & Frida Kahlo
My favourite painting is. . .
Balbir reflects on The Two Fridas
Cast one
Devising in lockdown
Las dos Fridas
‘Alas Para Volar (Wings to Fly)’
Amrita – a story that lives in Art