The artistic director of one of the world’s largest international dance festivals says she is “excited” about bringing in Indian contemporary dancers who are “pioneers developing their own language” and not following classical or Bollywood styles.
Emma Gladstone, head of the Dance Umbrella Festival, said she invited three choreographers – Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy, Hemabharathy Palani and Surjit Nongmeikapam – to show audiences in the UK that a contemporary scene was emerging in India.
They are part of Out of India, which is showing at the Barbican in London this month. “What I’m so excited by is that I feel it’s been a young scene in India for some years now, so they’ve been pioneers in Indian contemporary work,” Gladstone told Eastern Eye.
“I’m interested in programming artists in developing their own language, not working with inherited language. Of course the influence of the classical history is there and strong and not to be ignored, but I’m more excited by artists working to invent their own expression.
“They’re working in a different way from the commercial or the classical world without very minimal support either at a city or national level.
“They are very supportive of each other and on a bit of a mission to change the world or their world. So I wanted to invite them to London for audiences here to see that scene emerging.” The artists will showcase their perspective on life in modern India.
Shivaswamy’s duet NH7 is a political take on rapid urbanisation, depicting the impact it is having on individuals swept up in sudden change. Solo dancer Palani draws on her extensive technique for her performance, Trikonanga, which sees her pull apart the classical dance form Bharatanatyam.
Nongmeikapam blends props, projection and a dance by five men influenced by folk traditions and martial arts, inspired by the corruption and suffering in his home state of Manipur.
“What I hope is anybody coming to the festival will look at what these artists have to say,” Gladstone added.
“There’s really basic differences that seem quite common here in the contemporary scene but are quite unusual in India – like some of them dance with shoes, for example. But I think it’s an invitation to look at their world and their expressions with a openness to where it might take them.
“The hardest thing is to try and invite people to come in the door to look at those differences – it’s part of what I’m trying to do.”
Founded in 1978, Dance Umbrella is recognised for its annual festival, which takes place each October. This year the festival will be taking dance out of the theatre and into the public arena, as well as performing in the capital’s most prestigious venues.
Gladstone has been a dancer for 20 years and was previously an artistic programmer and producer at Sadler’s Wells. She said it was important that tours of the festival took place outside of theatre.
“That’s something I’m passionate about; to reach people where they live and not necessarily expect them to travel into town or to established venues.
“Dance is a valid, relevant and contemporary part of our cultural lives but can seem quite foreign to people. I’m interested in seeing if we can invite people to try it in venues they know.”
The first showing of Out of India: Modern Moves is on Wednesday (21).