Photo: Gavin Joynt

When Balbir mentioned The Creative Spirit of John Cury to me I briefly had a stardust dreamy moment from the famous movie Frozen. I would be just like Elsa gliding through the ice. A few seconds after, I was brought back to reality with a mix of excitement, fear and lots of questions. How am I going to do this? It was an epic project, and to be a part of and relive John Curry’s famous works was nerve-racking, to say the least. Lots of unanswered questions came to mind, and I was bursting with creativity at the same time. I had last danced on ice for Peacock Lake and had dusted away my swimming slippers (which is what I wore to dance on ice), wrapped and put them away neatly, wondering when I would ever use them again. Little did I know that I would find my way back to them so soon.

Balbir’s ideas
Balbir knew exactly what he wanted from all of us dancers, and gave us space to use our imagination to the fullest. He sent us the music and notes about John Curry to work on ahead of time. This made it a lot easier for me to understand Curry’s character and create movements for the piece that I had to do. Balbir began to focus us on Scheherazade, Faun and Firebird.

Progress made during rehearsals
We rehearsed in Sheffield in a lovely space that was provided for the dancers. I met Yamit and Erica there; they are trained ballet and contemporary dancers. Kali and I were the Indian classical dancers. We all listened to the music and decided to share our thoughts. The video of Faun was what we watched and listened to first. A few movement ideas were floating in already, and we worked in pairs on the creative tasks. Erica and Yamit did the initial framework for the first opening section, and Kali and I fitted into the visual that was created. We were happy with the imagery and proceeded. Slowly but steadily, we covered section by section and set the movements for almost the entire piece of music, leaving a minute more to finish.

Balbir was happy with the whole choreography and made a few little changes to make it tighter. The artists worked well together.
Kali and I both worked on Scheherazade as a duet. Balbir wanted a certain way of depicting this and decided to use Indian mythological stories as it would capture the audience’s attention. Scheherazade holds the King’s attention each night by failing to conclude her stories, leaving the King wanting. She saves herself from being beheaded for 1000 nights until eventually, the King falls in love with her. Balbir wanted to use the core part of three stories and pause them before the dramatic finish. So it was pretty helpful for us to pick our stories.

Stepping on ice
I met Vanessa, ITV’s Dancing on Ice celebrity skater for the first time during these rehearsals, and had an excellent connection. Balbir felt that Vanessa and I should do a duet together, given she has a graceful presence and balletic quality in her movements. So the next day, Vanessa and I met at the ice rink and set some movements together. We decided to do a mirror of Scheherazade on ice and land (stage); this was our focus for lovely choreography in this section. I found this particularly memorable as she was open to learning a bit of Indian dance. I was a bit nervous to step on the ice, but braved all my fears and went in.
This was taking place during the festival time, and I was kindly gifted two Japanese fans by the Japanese dance group that took part in the festival. I asked Balbir’s opinion on using these props on ice. He never disturbs the creative flow of the dancers but instead elevates the idea through encouragement whilst holding the bigger vision. Using these large, neon coloured, exceptionally beautiful fans on the ice brought a whole different feel to this section.

Working with a young skater
Balbir comes up with ideas then and there, and as artists, you should always be on board to changes and challenges. He pushes your
boundaries and easily convinces one that the ideas will work, seeing the little detail as well as the frame it sits within.

Balbir introduced me to the most gorgeous and talented little skater, six-year-old Kinsey. Her mother Nina is also a celebrity skater in Dancing on Ice. Her little daughter is following in her mother’s skatesteps to become a famous skater one day. She displayed such immense talent on ice that Balbir’s creative mind was inspired, and he put her in one of the Scheherazade stories. He decided that she could be little Krishna. I smiled at that thought, and straight away my mind went to creating some magical moments with her.

Nina is a perfectionist and wanted her daughter to understand every little
detail of what she was doing. With a background understanding of Krishna and mischievousness, the movements resolved easily. She translated to her daughter in Russian, and the language barrier faded away in no time. Kinsey nailed each section so perfectly that we decided to take it on ice and rehearse. Every time I went on the ice to rehearse, Kinsey was there ahead of me practising her section.

Working with a mature skater
Just as I thought that my sections were fixed and ready, Balbir yet again placed another thought in my mind. Gary is one of those amazing skaters who will make you smile and sit on the edge of your seat while watching him. I have always wanted to share the space with him but didn’t know I would get to in this project.
The final section was Firebird, and Balbir wanted me to be a fierce firebird doing Kathak movements and fast chakkars (spins) whilst Gary was on the ice making intricate patterns. There was a point at which I had to step on ice and join Gary. This complex and intense section captured the sense of collaboration at its best. It was exciting and exhilarating.

Show day
We had a good run-through before the show day, and every section was covered in detail, including the change in costumes. Balbir had smooth communication with Kim, who made sure our rehearsals, time and backstage changeover was on point. There were no major hassles during the show and we had a fantastic turnout and audience feedback.

Favourite moments
This project will remain a favourite for a long time to come. Particular moments were:
• Scheherazade section with Vanessa
• Playing the role of Yashoda to Krishna.
Kinsey brought raving applause from the audience. Remembering the moment we shared a hug as a mother and son (Krishna) on ice brings a sparkling excitement in me. The audience felt that too, and that makes me happy.
• Sharing the final ice moment with Gary was one of the major highlights for me. Just breathtaking.

How did I feel after the shows?
I felt very satisfied doing a show like this where I knew exactly what I was doing, and that makes a big difference. Though sometimes not knowing can also be interesting to see how you can push yourself further. Balbir was extremely encouraging, and during the show break he would come and say positive things, such as: “Scheherazade was the highlight of the first half, well done”. This gives a big boost to the dancers and elevates their performance quality.
I hope that I will be able to use my ice slippers and transform myself into Scheherazade all over again.

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