Two performers take to the stage: Namron, one of the great pioneers of contemporary dance and Pratap Pawar, equally renowned, but from the contrasting world of classical North Indian Kathak. Both are masters in their own field. Yet they are about to perform a piece entitled Learning to Dance. So what’s going on?
Balbir Singh has been schooled in both Kathak and western contemporary dance styles. Learning to Dance features both the dance masters who have taught him. A duet of astonishing virtuosity and grace, the piece is a reflection on the contrasting relationships of Guru-disciple and teacher-student.
In a brief reference to Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot, Balbir Singh opens the piece with both his former contemporary dance teacher and his Kathak Guru on stage, awaiting the arrival of their student/disciple.
It is typical of the playful nature of his work and a moment that Balbir relishes. “I realise this piece may appear to come out of the blue and seem unconnected to my recent work in that it is explicity ‘about dance’. But I think we have a duty as artists to examine what makes us do things the way we do them. These two great men – and two great traditions in which they stand – have been fundamental to my development as an artist. I want to map this out, show the overlap and make sense of what emerges when you synthesise the Western and Eastern approaches to learning.”
This transcultural exploration is underscored musically throughout the piece. Tabla features prominently, as does jazz saxophone played by Anglo-Indian composer Jesse Bannister, whose music combines both Eastern and Western musical influences.
As with many projects from Balbir Singh Dance Company, there is significant potential for the work to take on an educational dimension. The company is able to develop workshops exploring the roots and history of contemporary dance and Kathak. There is also potential for workshops celebrating diversity in the dance world – Namron, as one of the first Black contemporary dancers to achieve international attention provides an obvious starting point. And Pratap Pawar’s global reputation for bridging cultural divides (he was the first to identify and utilise the now widely understood synergy between Kathak and Flamenco) offers a further rich source of intercultural workshop material.