June 5 2015
Dance in India has ancient and deep roots and the influence of Islam, especially its Sufi traditions, has not always been widely recognised, now a new dance production seeks to do just that…
By Chayya Syal
IT’S A DANCE production which mixes two different cultural strands together – Hinduism and Sufi Islam, in a rare fusing.
Called “Parallel Worlds”, it will premiere at Watermans Arts Centre in Brentford in West London, tomorrow.
www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with Sushma Mehta, who is one of the co-choreographers, along with Priya Pawar, as the two dance companies of the respective composors, Shamaa and Pushpalata Dance Companies, come together for the first performance of “Parallel Worlds”.
www. asianculturevulture.com (ACV): How did your background as a dancer influence and inspire you to co-choreograph ‘Parallel Worlds’ with Priya Pawar?
Sushma Mehta (SM): I am a Kathak dancer who now teaches and performs Kathak to others. It’s an art form which attracted me because of its inclusive nature and diversity of cultures; in Kathak there are Hindu and Islamic influences as well as temple and court influences.
ACV: Have you done a production which explores such cultural crossovers before?
SM: Much of my previous work has explored Hindu-Muslim cultural influences; this is a theme that is very close to my heart. I feel like we focus on so many differences, but I wanted to focus on the commonalities between religions. I began researching – without knowing that it’d take the form of dance – and I read somewhere that Bhakti (devotion) was quite similar to Sufism. I began reading up and found many parallels in dance, art and poetry which helped to form my inspiration.
ACV: What do you hope that ‘Parallel Worlds’ will achieve as a piece of dance?
SM: I hope that it will help to create some community cohesiveness. I’m not saying that one production will change the world but I hope that it will help people think about cohesiveness and not divisiveness!
Our venues promote this [a performance will also be held in a Hindu temple]. There are lots of similarities between multiple faiths; they all have different ways of realising the ultimate truth. People do it differently and I wanted to, at least, make people think about this.
ACV: The themes within and behind ‘Parallel Worlds’ are an unusual yet interesting exploration of cultures. How difficult was it to create this crossover?
SM: It took me a long time to work on! It felt a bit like: “Where do we start!?” Rather than do a linear development of both, we decided that it was better to focus on the integral concepts that are both in common to both philosophies.
The first of my three main findings was ‘Lagaan’ – which means devotion – the element of our spirit’s passion, searching and longing.
In both philosophies, devotion takes the shape of God being a lover (like Radha referring to Krishna as a lover). This devotion was best expressed through dance, music and poetry – that was the most delicious finding from both! Both movements believe in this, for example, the whirling dervishes of Rumi – it’s like moving meditation. My second finding was the concept of nufi – means nil in Sufism. Here I interpreted it as the surrendering of ego, in order to realise the ultimate reality and rise to a higher level of spirituality.
My final finding was how both philosophies believe that we’ve been cut off from our roots and need to return to our origins.
In Bhakti, there’s the concept of moksha, where a Hindu devotee aims to reach the Ultimate Salvation and hopes to merge with the Universe’s spirit. This is done again through dance and music – using a fusion of mokhsa and damaal (a Sufi dance).
Shamaa Dance Company was founded in 1994 by Sushma Mehta and is a London-based multi-cultural dance company which specialises in Kathak. Sushma Mehta is a Kathak dance artiste, teacher, choreographer and artistic director of the Shamaa Dance Company. It mixes the modern with the ancient to create new works that cuts across traditional vocabularies. Mehta was one of the first South Asian Faculty members of the ISTD (Imperial Society of the Teachers of Dancing) and trained in Kathak under the guidance of well-known Kathak teachers Priya and Pratap Pawar (who was a mentor to the young Akram Khan).
Pushpalata Dance Company was founded in 1992 by Priya Pawar. The company’s name pays homage to her mother and she teaches students both Kathak and Odissi dance. It is believed to be the first classical Indian dance company to be formed by dancers solely trained in the UK. Priya Pawar gained a Nritya Vishard (BA) at the age of 10 and since 1972, has been listed as a ‘Top Grade’ artist by the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations). The company also performs folk styles and creates dance dramas.
‘Parallel Worlds’ premieres, 8pm, Saturday, June 6 at Watermans, 40 High Street, Brentford, TW80DS
And is performed again on Saturday, June 13 7.30pm at Vishwa Hindu Temple, 2 Lady Margaret Road, Southall UB1 2RA. See Shamaa Dance Company http://www.shamaadance.co.uk/ Pushpalata Dance Company http://www.priyapawar.fsworld.co.uk