Photos: Simon Richardson

Learning to Dance is a duet showcasing both of the two legendary masters of dance who taught Balbir Singh: his Kathak Guru the internationally renowned Pratap Pawar, and his contemporary dance teacher Namron, a significant figure in the development of British contemporary dance. Here, Balbir recalls the challenge – and privilege – of choreographing his mentors.

“Whilst I charmed the two of them into agreeing to do the project there was an initial wariness they had of each other, almost a sense of sizing each other up. However, through conversation it became apparent very quickly that they had worked in and knew the same people in a number of countries, especially in the early stages of their careers. There was a real parallel affinity in the journeys they had taken.

For me there was a nice sense of seeing a new friendship form for these 70 plus year old dancers in front of me. They bounced off of each other’s energy and humour. Both have such rich stories to tell from ongoing lifetime experiences in dance. Part of the process of making the work I realised was for them to talk about this as a way of inspiring each other, the other dancers and musicians.

For the younger dancers involved as well as the team of musicians, it felt like everyone was being blessed with the knowledge and wisdom of these two incredible performers

There was a danger the piece could become epic and sprawling as there was so much source material to draw upon. In terms of choreographically structuring it and ensuring it stayed on track I realised that I had to think about it being about dance, and put the two of them to one side. The through line to make the piece had to be dance, and how the two of them discovered, relate to, engage with and have grown through dance as human beings, teachers and vessels for the artform, being blessed with such outstanding talent.

For the younger dancers involved as well as the team of musicians, it felt like everyone was being blessed with the knowledge and wisdom of these two incredible performers and what they have contributed to the world of dance and thrilling so many audiences throughout the world. Without using the word genius lightly, this whole experience was being in the presence of two masters, two geniuses and two very humble men; we were all touched by their genius. Everyone involved in this process has changed and found a deeper perspective on what it is to be an artist and how to make sense of who we are in this world and what we are here to do.”