Photo by Owen Humpreys

Last Wednesday Balbir Singh Dance Company tiptoed out into the world again. From blogosphere to atmosphere! After three months of cancellation, of virtual world, of writing, planning and refection we were finally out of lockdown. At last we had an outdoor engagement – not a performance as such –  the go ahead for outdoor performance was announced yesterday – but a photoshoot and video session. 

We are truly proud and excited to be working in partnership with Billingham International Festival of Folklore and World Dance on ‘The Two Fridas.’  This new dance performance for the festival celebrates the lives and work of two amazing women artists – Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil.  The idea for the piece is the imaginative work of Festival director Olga Maloney. Bringing a full-length realised production of The Two Fridas to an audience in 2021 will be our task. 

The show narrates the parallels between the lives and art of these two extraordinary women artists who never met – Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil. The two women were contemporaries working in different continents but on surprisingly similar preoccupations. Both painted self-portraits extensively.

 ’United yet Apart’ is a driving idea of the piece – which sort of sums up the recent experience we’ve all been going through – people isolated from family, teams working virtually, from home, unable to gather in our usual spaces. 

The first venue for our photoshoot was Barnard Castle, a place many of us had never heard of until recently. We were in the grounds of the imposing Bowes Museum, an incredible building with stunning grounds. Huge in scale, the perfect backdrop for a socially distanced photo shoot. The sense of history, a big sky, our talented dancers Madhura Godbole and Erica Mulkern: each element conspired to offer the world an excellent first glimpse of the piece. 

As always with Balbir Singh Dance Company, this was a family affair. Madhura brought along her husband and young daughter to the shoot to support and with only the great outdoors to work in, no dressing rooms or backstage area, both dancers assembled their own costumes and make up – entering into the spirit of the new normal. 

For the afternoon video shoot, to avoid attracting attention and audience, we were welcomed into the garden of private home of a festival supporter. Again, the new normal was in evidence as a convoy of cars each containing one person moved slowly on traffic-free roads between locations. It is possible to work in this way – it takes a bit more thought, probably a lot more flexibility, and planning and an extensive risk assessment. 

As artists, we are used to constantly adapting and evolving. The company dancers’ reflections on their characters will inform the work – their thoughts and ideas are part of the process. 

Madhura: ‘This is my first project with Balbir Singh Dance academy. It is like dream come true. The role I played was unique and had so much fun portraying it. I also enjoyed the part of my co dancer especially when we both expressed similar expressions but via our own dance styles. I was able to witness something not normally seen in Indian Classical Dance formats’ 

Erica: ‘I wanted to fuse as many different styles of dance as I could and thoroughly enjoyed testing out some of my newly learnt Mexican Folk Dance. I am highly passionate about makeup, fashion and hair. I studied Frida and her artistry not just in her paintings but in her styling. Frida dealt with everything in her life with pride, grace and dignity. What an incredible woman to be portraying.’

Our day on Teesside was the best way of all to do it – with the launch of a new creative project, fabulous team, a great partnership with a festival and the community and with an artistically exciting topic to get stuck into. Even better, the picture was taken by The Times and was published the next day. 

Susan Burns

Company Manager