Monthly Archives: November 2018

SHIZUKA HARIU: THE ARCHITECT OF DANCE

In the early 2000s, an architecture student from Japan visited Sadler’s Wells for the first time and fell in love with the theatre. What she saw was Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s iconic dance piece, Rain, in which designer Jan Versweyveld hangs a wall of ropes around the stage. His idea was simple, but the overall experience resonated profoundly with the young designer.

Nearly 15 years later, after completing her MA in scenography and establishing a career as an architect and set designer, she was being invited back to London by choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez to design a new work for the Sadler’s Wells stage – Dystopian Dream.

“My love for dance is never going to stop,” she tells us. “I wasn’t good enough to be a professional dancer but I was watching a lot of Sadler’s Wells productions. I was doing research about dance theatre whilst in architecture school and realised there wasn’t much out there.”

Her passion for the art form and dedication to her career is undeniable. We are speaking to her from her home in Belgium, 24 hours after returning from the hospital with her new-born daughter and less than a week after giving birth.

Perhaps it is this infectious enthusiasm that has driven her success, having worked internationally with some of the dance world’s elite, creating spectacular architectural spaces for the likes of Alain Platel’s company les ballets C de La B and Akram Khan for his duet with famous French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem.

“The biggest opportunity I have been given came from Akram Khan. I learnt a lot from how he works with his team and how to trust your collaborators,” she says. “One day I was asked if I would like to make sketches for his production and later they said, oh and by the way, another performer is Sylvie Guillem. I was like, ‘wow’.”

Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters, designed by Shizuka Hariu

Her latest commission, Dystopian Dream, brings together a stellar creative team from across the world with gravity-defying choreography by dance duo Wang/Ramirez, inspired by the 15-track album of the same title by renowned producer and composer Nitin Sawhney.

For this, Shizuka has created a nightmarish world, an everyday life space turned upside down, a dystopian landscape; drawing inspiration from Escher’s staircases, the structure of icebergs, geometric shapes and even Christopher Nolan’s film Inception.

“The feeling or impression of the space is not happy or refreshing. It’s inviting audiences to the twisted and confused geometry. The gravity between wall and floor is shifted – that was my concept. The music is travelling from a really dark, lost feeling to something more comforting and then to discover something something positive, a floating world.”

Scale study for Dystopian Dream by Shizuka Hariu

3D models for Dystopian Dream by Shizuka Hariu

The process took about five months to complete, during which Shizuka made numerous sketches, three-dimensional stage plans, 16 different handmade models and copious Skype calls to her international creative team.

She is fascinated by the choreographic style of Honji and Sebastien, which often incorporates aerial work. Attached to wires, the dancers walk on walls and ceilings and propel themselves from surfaces, gliding through the air – a challenge for any designer to accommodate this functionality whilst emphasizing their movements.

But the biggest challenge, she revealed, was creating her work in synergy with Nick Hillel’s stunning projection design which helps to evolve the dream-like environment and allows for some clever visual trickery and interaction with the performers.

“Nick’s imagery is really fascinating so you don’t want to restrict his visual content by making a set design which is not easy to project onto. The projection mapping is 3D, so he can capture my set in his computer and can project on the outline but also he needs some flat space sometimes so he can show his image clearly.”

In addition to Nick’s projections and Nitin’s music, fashion designer Hussein Chalayan has been brought on board to create the costumes, singer Eva Stone provides live vocals on stage and Olivier Award winner Natasha Chivers sets the mood with her lighting design.

Dystopian Dream. Credit: Johan Persson

It’s clear that Dystopian Dream is an audiovisual feast for the senses. With the music as their starting point, the creative team have each drawn on the themes behind it. It’s an album which was partially influenced by the death of Nitin’s father as well as a feeling of despair at current political events.

“Dance has a lot of abstract interpretation for people and is flexible in terms of story lines and structures,” says Shizuka. “Contemporary expression is open for us, the creators. Evoking a mood, rather than creating a concrete environment for the play. That’s what I like. Not to make a description of a scene and inviting spectator with their own interpretation.”

Dystopian Dream makes its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 27 & 28 Nov. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Watch the trailer here:

A Beginner’s Guide to Bharatanatyam – Darbar Voices

What are the themes behind bharatanatyam? How did the dance style get its name? In our final instalment of Darbar Voices, we hand over to Sundaresan (Sunny) Ramesh, who is a student of Pushkala Gopal and an NYDC alumnus, to tell us more about one of the most popular styles in Indian dance.

The evolution of bharatanatyam

Let me tell you about bharatanatyam and my passion for it. Bharatanatyam has evolved over the years. Originating in temples of yore, its popularity had spread throughout Southern India. At some point, a few of centuries ago, it was patronised by the royal courts of Southern India. It was popularly known as Sadir performed by Devadasis, women of an artistic community who were dedicated either to the local temple or local patrons. Over time, the dance came into a lot of criticism. The British degraded the women that danced this art form. In 1892 there was a movement to stop practicing bharatanatyam and in 1910 the government had banned dancing in temples. The Indian community disapproved of the ban and as the Indian freedom movement gained momentum, people were getting a restored identity with Indian culture and tradition. With the pioneering efforts of E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale, bharatanatyam expanded out of the Devadasi community and slowly grew as a cultural presence amongst the community at large, the early decade of the 20th century.

Etymology

Bharatanatyam is a combination of the words, Bharata and Natyam. Natyam is translated to dance and a popular interpretation of bharata is: bha – as bhava (emotions and feelings), ra is raga (musical notes) and ta is Talam (rhythm). There is an ancient text in Sanskrit on the performing arts. This is called the Natya Shastra and is attributed to Bharata. Bharatas were believed to be experts of dramaturgy which included music, dance and theatre which were originally a unified art form. This text contains thousands of verses on how dance should be performed and what the purpose of dance is. It also contains chapters on stagecraft and recommended principles on the staging of drama and a couple of chapters on music. All the classical dance styles of India are connected to the Natya Shastra.

Skills of the dancer

Bharatanatyam encompasses a wide variety of skills, it is a dance form that requires the dancer to have experience of theatre, music, literature and poetry. There are two main elements of bharatanatyam which are Nritta and Nritya. Nritta is pure dance, it is creating complex movements and patterns to rhythms. It does not have a focus on meaning but it expresses the joyous energy and beauty experienced by the dancer. Nritya is a combination of rhythm and expression. The dancer would perform to a poem or song by using subtle facial expressions and hand gestures. The entire body reacts to the emotions and allows the dancer to be elevated to a non-worldly level. They also induce the spectator to experience the emotions felt or generated by the dancer – rasa. Nandikeswara, a later scholar defines abhinaya as “exhibiting the meaning of what one depicts”. He defined fourfold abhinaya as the reach of using voice or techniques which excites aural response in the audience. Aharya abhinaya is the communication through costume and Satvika abhinaya stimulates the actor or dancer to be elevated to the point of total surrender to what he or she is portraying, which is then believed to create involuntary responses like shivering, numbness, weeping and other reactions usually seen at the height of emotional experiences.

Themes of the dance style

The themes are usually selected from Indian mythology, however more and more dancers are now opening their ideas and exploring non-religious and contemporary themes based on their audiences. Creators also experiment with global influences of music and movement styles. We are currently seeing high-quality dancers pushing the boundaries and it is extremely fascinating to see the spread of bharatanatyam.

Hear more from Sunny Ramesh by following _.sundaresan on Instagram.

Darbar Festival celebrates Indian classical dance at Sadler’s Wells from 23 – 25 Nov. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. See the full Darbar Festival programme here.

BARING ALL: MAVIN KHOO AND CARLOS PONS GUERRA IN CONVERSATION

We speak frankly with Mavin Khoo and choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra about the process of getting ‘emotionally naked’ to create their latest work, Man to Monk, for the Sadler’s Wells stage.

“There is such a joy to being a vessel,” says Mavin Khoo, who has established a career of nearly 20 years as a dancer and is speaking to us from the back room of a rehearsal studio.

“One of the challenges I have now is finding people to make work on me who are interested to really go deep in terms of who I am, as opposed to coming into the studio and my body becoming a kind of superficial instrument.”

This hunger for a new kind of creative process is what led him to work with choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra on an intense period of research where they would literally eat, sleep and rehearse together. Mavin would become Carlos’s muse.

“I spent a lot of time with Mavin. I felt like a journalist in a way,” says Carlos. “Christopher Isherwood famously writes in his novel Goodbye to Berlin ‘I am a camera.’ I really feel like I was a camera that was just following Mavin and it was just so interesting to immerse myself into one person and the essence of that person.”

After two years in creation, their two-part dance work titled Man to Monk emerged: an exploration of raw human desire and an intimate portrait of sexuality, masculinity and relationships, where Mavin partners with Victor Callens in a male duet.

“I can play the very good student or the good dancer, who just listens in the studio,” says Mavin, “but it was important for me that he really understood all the negative things about me. My temperament, my moods, how I sleep at night, my desires. If someone was going to make a work on me about love, they had to really understand this deeply. I’m sure it must have been quite overwhelming and quite intense at times for Carlos.”

“Mavin would cook for us every night. There was a very kind of motherly, caring aspect to him I got to experience because you’re out of the studio. We interviewed each other several nights. I got to pray with Mavin so I got to experience his spiritual life as well. But then we discovered we’ve got lots of things in common. We really love The Golden Girls! It had some intensity at times because you’re negotiating personal space. But, wow, it definitely makes for a very kind of profound work. It makes the research so much more complete.”

Carlos and Mavin, on the surface, might not seem like your most obvious pairing – aside from their mutual appreciation of The Golden Girls. Mavin is a classically trained bharatanatyam dancer, from Malaysian heritage and practising Hindu. Carlos has become known for his gender-bending contemporary dance work questioning queer identity and comes from a Spanish Catholic family.

So, did their differing cultural backgrounds and dance styles force them outside of their comfort zone?

“I think the cultural perspectives of our backgrounds didn’t really have as much difference as we thought it would. There was quite a lot of similarity. It was more the perception and construction of queerness that had more challenges,” Mavin answers.

“Mavin has such a rich physical heritage inside him. There is so much in him that can come out, rather than a challenge I think that was a blessing. It gave us so many options,” adds Carlos.

Mavin’s innate qualities have become part of the work, whether he wanted them to or not, as he explained…

“I feel more that my whole spine is so Asian!” laughs Mavin. “I think there’s something about that certainty that is much more embodied as opposed to constructed. The work is a lot about this element of construction, whether it’s queerness or it’s cultural. There is an interesting subtext that is challenging our perception of what construction is as opposed to embodiment.”

“This isn’t a fusion between bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. What’s really great about this work is Mavin’s ‘orientalisation’. Everything that’s Asian in him is in the work, in the vocabulary, just because he’s there. That relationship between him and Victor, who is so clearly Caucasian, is really strong because of its honesty and not necessarily because of the language that we’re using.”

Carlos was speaking to us from Tennessee where he is currently crafting a work for Nashville Ballet. Here the tradition is still geared towards the male and female pas de deux, he told us. So how conscious was the decision to subvert what we’re used to seeing in a classical context, by partnering two men in Man to Monk?

“It sheds light on one gender. But although this is very clearly a relationship between two men or one man and god, there is a universality in it that I feel like any kind of gender denomination can relate to.”

Man to Monk comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on 29 & 30 Nov. Tickets are priced at £17. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

The History and Evolution of Kathak – Darbar Voices

In the next instalment of Darbar Voices – a four-part blog series exploring the world of Indian classical dance in celebration of Darbar Festival – British-Chinese dance artist Jane Chan tells us why kathak is central to her practice as an independent dance artist.

Kathak was first introduced to me at University of Surrey, where it was one of the five techniques on the course. I have always been a culture-nerd and kathak is the confluence of culture and dance. Also, as an international student in a brand-new environment, kathak was the only connection to my Asian background. At the time, it did not matter whether it was my culture – I just fell in love with it. To me, kathak may be a dance form that has a long history with ancient traces, however it is not ‘ancient’, it is very much alive and ever-changing just like any other dance form.

Kathak is practised every day worldwide. It is a vibrant, well-established, highly technical and complex dance form from North India with emphasis on pure dance (Nritta) and storytelling (Nritya). Northern India was invaded by many different rulers, particularly from Central Asia, since the early centuries of the last millennium. Many of these rulers were patrons of music and dance. They brought their own art forms to the newly conquered India. A vibrant process of exchange and evolution followed. The Mughals were the most prominent patrons. It was during this time that kathak flourished.

Darbars were the royal courts where meetings, announcements and artistic gatherings took place. Darbar Festival is exactly that – where the most prestigious classical South Asian music and dance artists gather under one roof in front of a highly charged audience of ‘rasikas’. Some of the most critically acclaimed musicians and dancers from across the world see Darbar as momentous in their careers. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to watch some of the most sought-after dancers and musicians in London. It really is a royal treatment with the performances on Darbar’s programme.

Photo: Simon Richardson

Kathak is central to my practice as an independent dance artist. I see myself as an advocate for kathak by presenting myself as a dance artist who is dedicated and committed to practising kathak regardless of my cultural background. It is essential to have artists who are of different backgrounds who practise classical Indian music and dance as they represent diverse narratives, which add to a wide context of history that is vital for generations to come.

It also shows that the art forms have universal appeal and are not exclusive to people from particular cultural backgrounds. In the world today, the arts are needed more so than ever to bring people together to celebrate the creativity and energy of diversity. I question and reclaim cultural and social misrepresentation of my presence and visibility as a British-Chinese artist who practises kathak. I hope my practice will act as a catalyst, to invite the audience to a movement, a discourse, a wider conversation about multiculturalism, arts and collective experience.

Hear more from Jane Chan by following chanjaneonlifetour on Instagram and visiting chanjane.com.

Darbar Festival celebrates Indian classical dance at Sadler’s Wells from 23 – 25 Nov. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. See the full Darbar Festival programme here.

Lead image: Simon Richardson

Our favourite Snowmen in film

Whether they melt your heart or give you the chills, snowmen are an enduring fixture on the big and small screen. As the enchanting stage version of Raymond Briggs’ classic book, The Snowman, returns to The Peacock, we take a closer look at some of the most memorable snowmen from film and TV.

Olaf

A snowman who wants a sun tan? It can only be Olaf, our favourite frozen friend from, er, Frozen. This lovable chap has a penchant for summer, warm hugs, and an uncanny ability to comically disassemble his body at the most awkward of moments. Anna’s quest to find her sister, Elsa, and break her spell of eternal winter simply wouldn’t be the same without him.

Jack Frost

In this 1998 family fantasy flick, Michael Keaton plays a rock singer dad who comes back to life as a snowman after missing his son’s hockey match and falling victim to a fatal car accident. Thankfully, he’s left son Charlie with a magic harmonica, which summons him back to life as a fun-loving (and somewhat repentant) snowman. Much hilarity ensures, and Jack gets a chance to redeem himself as the world’s coolest dad (ho ho ho…).

Frosty the Snowman

‘A jolly happy soul with a corncob pipe and a button nose’, the famous Frosty is brought to life in this 1969 cartoon classic thanks to magic hat and some enterprising children. Their quest to get Frosty to the North Pole before he melts results in a heart-warming animated adventure which shows what happens when you believe in a little bit of magic.

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman comes to the mountain rescue to Mike and Sulley in Disney Pixar’s Monsters Inc. Fuelled by yellow Snow Cones (don’t worry, it’s lemon) he tries to acclimatise them to a life of banishment, but the determined duo are not settling down without a fight…

The Snowman

Beloved by all ages, this enduring adaptation of the Raymond Briggs picture book (which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year) has been screened on Channel 4 every Christmas since 1982. On Christmas Eve, a boy builds a snowman who magically comes to life. Together, they soar above the skies to ‘Walking in the Air’. It’ll melt your heart.

The Snowman returns to The Peacock from 22 Nov – 6 Jan. Tickets are priced from £15, with family tickets for just £120 (terms and conditions apply). To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8222 or book online.

Image: Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman 

Where to find Indian classical dance in London – Darbar Voices

In the second installment of Darbar Voices, a four part blog series delving into the world of Indian dance in celebration of Darbar Festival, BBC’s Young Dancer and Birmingham-born kathak dancer Vidya Patel shares her top tips on where to experience Indian classical dance in London.

I’m a proud Brummie and have been lucky to be able to see a lot of Indian classical dance whilst growing up in the Midlands. My parents had a real interest in the artform and were keen for me and my sister to be exposed to it from a young age, so they frequently took us to see a range of performances.

There are a total of eight different styles of Indian classical dance: bharatanatyam, kathak, odissi, kuchipudi, kathakali, manipuri, mohiniyattam and sattriya. They have distinct aspects and elements to them which are beautiful to watch. You can expect to see a lot of bharatanatyam and kathak across the UK, however I’m happy to say that other styles are now more popularly performed and taught than they used to be.

I love seeing a variety of works of different genres and choreographers and London has been the best place for this as there is always a dance show you can go and watch, whatever the time of day. Indian classical dance isn’t always regularly presented, in comparison to other dance styles such as ballet, so when it is, you have to grasp the opportunity to see it and live it!

Sujata Banerjee Dance Company
During my late teens I started travelling to London a lot for classes with my Guruji – Sujata Banerjee, and conveniently saw whatever Indian classical dance shows the city offered if it coincided with my travels. I now regularly train with Sujata Banerjee Dance Company under the guidance of kathak guru Sujata Banerjee. They regularly hold classes and workshops for anyone interested in learning kathak as well as an annual Kathak Festival which invites national and international kathak artists to perform. You can find out more about classes and workshops here. #

Watch Vidya Patel performing a duet choreographed by Sujata Banerjee on the Sadler’s Wells stage at the BBC Young Dancer Final in 2015:

Akademi
Akademi is a London based organisation which promotes South Asian dance and introduces it to a wider audience. They regularly produce and create platforms for a variety of dance works throughout the year so I’d definitely recommend checking out their social media platforms to see what they have on.

Vidya Patel performing in Akademi’s production of The Troth, choreographed by Gary Clarke, which is touring the UK in autumn 2018

Alchemy Festival
Some of the most memorable Indian classical dance performances I’ve seen in the UK have been at Alchemy Festival which usually takes place during summertime at the Southbank Centre. I remember seeing the beautiful and awe-inspiring odissi ensemble company from India called Nrityagram and the internationally renowned kathak company, also from India, Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company. I never thought I’d be able to see them live so I’m so glad that they were programmed for audiences in the UK. I’m excited to see Aditi’s latest choreographic work for kathak dancer Gauri Diwakar in Adventures in Odissi and Kathak as part of this year’s Darbar Festival.

I have also seen some great Indian classical dance pieces by both international and UK based artists at the following venues, and would really recommend following them on social media:

• Sadler’s Wells
• Southbank Centre
• Bharati Vidya Bhavan
• The Nehru Centre
• Richmix
• Akademi

As well as keeping an eye on different venues, following various freelance artists, organisations and companies which are training in or promoting Indian classical dance is also a great way to keep track of performances.

Hear more from Vidya Patel by following @VidyaPatel96 on Twitter and _vidyapatel on Instagram.

Darbar Festival celebrates Indian classical dance at Sadler’s Wells from 23 – 25 Nov. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. See the full Darbar Festival programme here.

Lead image: Credit Helen Murray

Breakin’ Convention takes over Denver for a weekend of hip hop dance theatre

Breakin’ Convention returned to Denver this month with a festival that celebrated hip-hop culture and showcased both world-class, international acts and local street dance companies.

The festival took over the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) for the second consecutive year on 2-4 November, in conjunction with #DenverArtsWeek. Around 5,000 people enjoyed performances and free activities over the weekend. The lineup featured Dutch b-boy crew The Ruggeds, UK’s BirdGang Dance Company with Vice, a piece on addiction, French dancer Antoinette Gomis, whose solo honoured the beauty of black culture, a comic duet by Sample Culture (also from The Netherlands), and Los Angeles-based popping trio Femme Fatale. All received standing ovations from the crowd.

Image by John Moore

The Ruggeds in Adrenaline The Show. Image: John Moore

Image by John Moore

Femme Fatale performing at DCPA. Image: John Moore

Image by John Moore

The Bboy Factory at DCPA. Image: John Moore

Image by John Moore

Antoinette Gomis in IMAGES. Image: John Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist and Breakin’ Convention’s Artistic Director Jonzi D curated and hosted the show, stressing the importance of creating an organic environment for hip-hop culture to flourish, a space where both local and international acts come together. Sharing his vision, General Manager of the DCPA’s Broadway division Alicia Bruce recognised that the festival “is not just about dance from around the world. It’s also about dance from around the corner”.


Jonzi D in conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore

Local acts included Block 1750, Chase Evered, Whole Milk, Breaking Barriers, The Freak Show, Love Es Love, Side by Side and B-Boy Factory, who also performed at the student matinee on Friday, which attracted an audience of 2,500 pupils.

A highlight was the 303 Free Jam, which kick-started the festival with a rich programme of dance workshops, graffiti, MCs, DJs and impromptu dance sessions delivered by Breakin’ Convention in collaboration with the headline artists.

“Considering that we don’t always have the opportunity to move the way we want, we really wanted to take advantage of this,” said Abner Genece, who took his son Jaden to the 303 Free Jam. “It fills me with joy to see him out there expressing himself. It’s amazing really to have the exposure to artists from all over the world, not only visually but movement-wise, music, vocally. To be able to expose him to all these different kinds of influences is great, and show him there’s a whole world out there right here in Denver.”

Image by John Moore

Mastering the steps with Ivan the Urban Action Figure. Image: John Moore

Image by Emma Ponsford

Young attendees wearing Breakin’ Convention’s merch. Image: Emma Ponsford

Image by John Moore

Graffiti workshop. Image: John Moore

Image by John Moore

Antoinette Gomis’ free Sample Session workshop. Image: John Moore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on upcoming events and activities, visit www.breakinconvention.com/

Header image: John Moore

Life is a dream for over 60s joining Rambert on stage

Over-60 dancers took to our main stage for a workshop delivered by Rambert, to coincide with the company’s run of new production Two last week.

Group picture at Rambert’s workshop. Image: Emma Bellerby

Company dancer Joshua Barwick led the session, starting with a gentle contemporary dance warm-up. He then taught participants some steps from Rambert’s production Life is a Dream, the retelling of the 17th-Century play of the same name choreographed by two-time Olivier Award-winner Kim Brandstrup. At the end of the workshop, the group performed duets from the piece.

This event welcomed complete beginners and gave them the opportunity to explore performance techniques with professional dancers against the backdrop of our main auditorium.

Working in pairs to learn dance steps from Rambert. Image: Emma Bellerby

Participants warming up.  Image: Emma Bellerby

 

Participants felt enriched by the experience. “How wonderful this morning’s workshop was. I really loved it! Josh was a real inspiration and I appreciated his patience,” said Margot.

“I just want to say how much I enjoyed the Rambert workshop today,” added Norma. “It was so joyful and we had such a brilliant teacher.”

“I dreamed of running away to dance at Sadler’s Wells when I was a little girl, ” admitted Rosey, “and to have achieved that aim was thrilling. Even though it took 60 years, I got there!”
“I think the outreach Sadler’s Wells does is fantastic and long may it continue,” she concluded.

The workshop was supported by our Learning & Engagement team, as part of our ongoing work to connect our local communities with the work we present on our stages, and to bring dance to the widest possible audience.

A guide to the music of Bharatanatyam – Darbar Voices

Welcome to Darbar Voices, a four part blog series delving into the world of Indian classical dance in celebration of Darbar Festival, which returns to Sadler’s Wells in November with a dance programme curated by Akram Khan. Discover more about this discipline and hear directly from the artists and experts working in the field as our guest writers share insight into the traditions and ideas behind some of the oldest dance styles in the world.

In the first of this series, we hand over to Praveen Prathapan (AKA The Flute Guy), an Indian Classical musician and former NASA Scientist. Praveen left his academic career in pursuit of music and has now amassed almost 10 million views on Facebook and YouTube. Praveen has collaborated with Emeli Sande, Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, and Cheryl Cole and, at 23 years old, is also a trained vocalist, percussionist, and composer.

Here Praveen offers insight into canartic music, and its relationship to bharatanaytam.

Carnatic music shares many traits with Western classical music, such as the employment of major and minor scales, which comprise just two of the thousands of ragas in Carnatic music. Unlike its Western counterpart however, Carnatic music distinctively does not utilise harmonies or chord progressions. Nevertheless, its largest component, manodharmam (improvisation), makes Carnatic music share remarkably similar characteristics with blues and jazz music (didn’t expect that, did you).

Carnatic music is also known for some of the most complex rhythmic patterns and talas (beat cycles) in the world. Seriously, it gets crazy.

An example of the carnatic music style. Bharat Sundar sings solo the Raga Thodi:

Carnatic music often accompanies the dance style of bharatanatyam, a subgenre of Indian classical dance renowned for its complex footwork, detailed array of mudras (gestures), and storytelling style.

Watch bharatanatyam duo Renjith and Vijna perform with live musicians:

Traditionally, bharatanatyam performances have been accompanied by the Vadya Trayam (Holy Trinity) of Carnatic instruments: Veena (a plucked stringed instrument), Venu (flute), and the Mridangam (drum). These three instruments have specific functions: the Mridangam complements the rhythmic foot movements of the dancer, the Veena enhances the texture with its array of tala strings and main strings, and the flute decorates the melodies with ornamentations.

Praveen performs an Indian classical version of the theme from Titanic on the Venu, accompanied by the Veena:

Since the colonisation of India by the British, the violin has been added to this repertoire, replacing the Veena which in turn is gradually disappearing from bharatanatyam performances. The most important instrument on stage, the Nattuvangam (hand cymbals), is tapped in conjunction with the dancer’s feet. More modern performances of bharatanatyam have seen new instruments being employed, such as the drum pad, for special effects like temple bells, the Sitar, for North Indian bhajan-style pieces, and even the piano, to introduce harmonies. Finally, the vocalist sings the melodic lines, which contain the all-important sahithya (lyrics), which the dancer portrays visually.

The confluence of carnatic music and bharatanatyam is a beautiful thing to behold, and has stood the test of time for centuries. However, like everything in life, art changes and evolves. What does the future look like? I predict three major things to happen.

The first is the likeliest: with globalisation transpiring at an unprecedented rate, I believe genres will merge more frequently; artists have already begun to incorporate elements of ballet into bharatanatyam, and harmonies into Carnatic music. Improvisation in bharatanatyam has not been explored to the extent that Carnatic music has, and so my second prediction is that we will see more of this experimental technique.

Finally, with the explosion of the digital world, well-known artists of the future will be those who have found a way to bring these age-old traditions to our screens and social media. All of these, some of these, or none of these, could happen. However, one thing is for certain: these ancient art forms are still being practised today, and I’m grateful to witness it in the 21st century.

See more videos from The Flute Guy and subscribe to his YouTube channel here, follow @therealfluteguy on Twitter, the_flute_guy on Instagram and The Flute Guy on Facebook.

Sadler’s Wells presents An Evening of Bharatanatyam as part of Darbar Festival 2018 on 24 Nov. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. See the full Darbar Festival programme here.

Photo credit: Jananie Baskaran of 3D Media

Maxine Meets… Peregrine the Pony

As Birmingham Royal Ballet brings La Fille mal gardée to the Sadler’s Wells stage, our Publications Officer Maxine fulfils her dream of meeting a very special star of the show… Peregrine the pony.

Before we get started, let me make this very clear: I am not obsessed with this pony. Definitely not. I may have chased him down the street once (more on that later), and even bought him a bouquet. Twice (more on that later too), but that doesn’t mean I’m obsessed. Sure, I like him. But obsessed? No. Never. Not me.

That’s not to say that there are other people who aren’t.

There is a small corner of the internet that is very jealous of me right now. A dedicated fandom, lurking within the larger ballet-loving community. A group of balletomanes (pun very much intended) who have been following the career of this pony with all the ardour of a teenage girl at a One Direction concert circa 2012.

Peregrine (like all the best ballet stars, he’s dropped his first name: Formakin) stormed onto the ballet scene nearly a decade ago in a performance of La Fille mal gardée, pulling the tiny trap that carries Lise (the Fille of the title) and her mother from their farmhouse out to greet the workers in the fields.

Along the way he is led by one of the more junior (two-legged) members of the company, while to his rear he is trailed by another dancer, carrying a trug that, under the cover of a cheerful looking cloth, contains a… well, let’s be blunt here, a not-so theatrical pooper-scooper, to be whipped out should any accidents occur.

And oh boy, do accidents occur, necessitating hasty clean-up and even hastier footwork as the ballerinas shift their pink satin pointe shoes away from the slippy patch.

Since then he has claimed the role as his own, touring it to stages all around the country with such regularity that his name is now pretty much synonymous with the ballet.

Caught on the hoof

I first saw Fille back in 2012. As a former devotee to the more histrionic storytelling of MacMillan, I was initially a little sneery at the thought of this schmaltzy Ashton ballet, where chickens dance, true love reigns supreme, and there’s no need for poison, swords or any weaponry beyond a few cheekily thrown cabbages (even the promising looking sickles are only used to fell wheat, which struck me as a waste).

Which is why it is somewhat surprising that, on a sunny evening in 2015, I found myself sprinting out of Pret, a half-eaten sandwich stuffed into my bag, and popcorn flying everywhere, in a scene that could only match Beatle-mania for sheer enthusiasm and adoration. Because there, trotting down St Martin’s Lane, his white coat gleaming in the evening sun as he headed towards the Royal Opera House for that night’s performance, was Peregrine.

A few second later, very red in the face and filled with regrets about my regular gym non-attendance, I caught up with him. I don’t exactly remember what happened next. It was all a bit of a blur. But I came away feeling like I could pull off even the grandest of jetés.

So, when I found out that Fille (and, more importantly, Peregrine) was heading to Sadler’s Wells with Birmingham Royal Ballet, I acted with both grace and decorum. I absolutely did not start my campaign to interview him the second it was announced.

I waited a full day. At least.

So how do you interview a pony? Enter Tom Davis, farm manager of Peregrine’s current London digs at Mudchute Park and Farm, who has known the equine star for more than eight years and was happy to act as intermediary.

I started with the basics: how old is he? “21.” Old for a pony. “He’s a more mature gentleman,” was Tom’s no-nonsense statement on the matter. “He’s not quite in his twilight years, but he’s doing alright.” But nearing retirement, surely? “What Peregrine does isn’t very taxing,” Tom assured me, noting the panic in my voice. “It’s not a very long stint. It would be entirely up to his owner when he retires, but he’s doing well. He’s still fit and healthy, and until anything shows to the contrary then he’ll carry on doing it, I imagine.”

His owner, George Gold, agrees. Peregrine’s predecessor kept on going until she was 30.

My little pony

Peregrine comes from a long line of hoofers stretching back to the 1920s. They’ve been performing in Fille for over 20 years (Superstar took over from the appropriately-named Lise in 1996). And matters, it seems, are in hand for the next trap-puller. “He’s been running with some mares, so hopefully there’ll be the pitter patter of tiny Peregrine hooves…” says Tom, ever so casually, as if he’s not giving me the journalistic scoop of a lifetime. “…in eleven or twelve months’ time.”

Oh. My. God.

It takes me a moment to recover from this bombshell. Have you ever seen a Shetland pony foal? I haven’t, but a quick Google image search tells me everything I need to know. I recommend you give it a go if you’re having a bad day. I really do.

One day a Peregrine Junior might end up pooping on the Sadler’s Wells stage. What a thought.

Tom hesitates. “If they are as good as he is,” he says. “Ponies, with the nature that Peregrine has, especially from an entire stallion, are very, very hard to come by.” Ah, yes. Shetlands have a bit of a… shall we say a ‘reputation’? “Shetland ponies are known worldwide to suffer from small man syndrome. But Peregrine is a chip off the old block, and I think they did break the mold when it came to him.”

“But, we can live in hope that he’s got a son and heir cooking, in Scotland, inside one of these mares he’s been running with. Hopefully he’s left her with more than just pleasant memories and he’s got a little baby in there that’s going to be as good as he is.”

Tom, as you can probably tell by now, has a way with words that leans towards the romantic.

I can see why though. Peregrine begs for poetry.

When I spot him inside his trailer, the sight of his familiar shape clamps down hard on my heart.

The stubby stockiness of his legs. The rotund fullness of his belly. His gentle eyes fringed with the palest of lashes.

And let’s not insult his colouring by calling him a ‘grey.’

He’s white. Very white. As white as snow. Or paper. Or the White Witch, Jadis herself. Looking at Peregrine, metaphors utterly fail me.

The fact of the matter is, he’s so white that there have even been rumours that he gets powdered down before going on stage. But they’re not true. Right? “Absolutely!” agrees Tom, sounding rather shocked. “No, no, no, goodness me. He might powder his nose but that’s about it.”

“He’s like the miniaturised version of the stallion in Shrek,” he continues, warming to the theme. “When the donkey gets turned into the horse, that’s him in miniature. He’s a poor man’s unicorn.”

Mane appeal

While we’re on the subject, we have another rumour to dispel: Pantene. He doesn’t really use that… does he?

“Well, he has done in the past. For that kind of hair, you use anything. He’s been known to use a bit of L’Oreal.

“Because he’s worth it,” Tom adds, deadpan.

Peregrine’s fulsome fringe is as soft and voluminous as it looks, falling in enviable Veronica Lake fashion over his eyes. As a Mane ‘n Tail girl myself, I’m taking notes.

A stable performer

Peregrine on the farm, image credit: Tom Davis

Apart from being a stunner, and a nice chap to boot, Peregrine is also annoyingly talented. A true triple-threat.

No one who has seen him in action can forget the pawing motion he does with his hoof when his convoy comes to a halt in front of the drop cloth. “Sometimes when Peregrine’s impatient, he’ll paw the ground, because he knows the cues, he knows how long he should be stood in a certain place. There are a few behaviours that he’s learnt to do over the years, and that is one of them. Usually that’s him wanting to hurry everyone along a little bit.”

I’ve always wondered about the cues. What is it that Peregrine is responding to? “The dancers,” says Tom. “The music. Where he’s standing. They all add up, to give him his cue of when he should be doing what he’s doing.”

And he remembers it all? Sometimes years pass before a ballet company revives Fille. “He’s like a seasoned West End performer. To be honest, he knows a lot of it. And remembers a lot of it. Because it’s something that he’s done for many years. He knows when the harness goes on, what he’s meant to be doing.”

He’s certainly well behaved when I’m left holding his lead rope. He stands obligingly as we pose for photos on Rosebery Avenue, with a patience born of the utmost professionalism.

But what I really want to know is, what happens before the harness goes on. What’s his process? Is he method?

“On the days when he’s not there, he’ll be out in the field. But we have to make sure that he’s got a rug on, because of his colour. Because one of the first things he’ll do when you turn him out into the field is to roll. When the ground’s quite damp, he will go from being a nice whiteish-grey pony to being a very dark brown, dirty pony. It’ll be brushing him, giving him a brush off, and making sure he looks well. You might put a bit of hoof oil on his hooves to shine them up a little bit.”

And on the days when there isn’t time? When he’s expected to strut his stuff for the matinee and evening show? “He’ll have an area. It’ll probably be in the lorry, which is the size of a large stable on wheels. He’ll have hay nets and water buckets and a bed to lay down in, or the floor if he wants to. So he’ll relax how all ponies do. Eat a bit of hay, have a little drop of water, and maybe lay down and have a snooze.”

Bliss.

Celebrity stallion

It’s probably for the best that neither Peregrine, nor his owner, indulges in social media. A quick glance through the #NaughtyPeregrine hashtag on Twitter will give you a glimpse into the collective love for this adorable pony. However, the #PeregrinesBouquet takes matters to an entirely different level.

In 2015, cinema goers around the world were treated to the sight of Darcey Bussell presenting an edible bouquet to Peregrine during the live stream of The Royal Ballet’s production of La Fille mal gardée. Paid for by the fans (Ahem…) the pink ribboned basket was put together and delivered by the ballet-bouquet specialists at Bloomsbury Flowers (only the best for this pony).

“It wasn’t until he’d done the last stint at the Royal Opera House and was presented with an edible bouquet, and his owner George came back to the farm with an entire bag of fan-mail, that I realised Peregrine had the following that he did. But then again, he’s a seasoned pro, very professional in what he does, and he’s quite an endearing pony. When people see him they do like him.”

“I have to admit, I did write one of those letters,” I say tentatively, wondering what sort of reaction I’ll get from Tom.

“Well, I imagine up in Scotland he’s got them over his stable wall or something like that,” he says sweetly.

So there. You see. Not obsessed at all.

I’m not the only one. “I was never a fan of Shetland ponies, and then I met Peregrine,” says Tom. “I think he’s a once in a lifetime pony, to be fair.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée runs from 1 – 3 Nov. Tickets are available now priced from £12. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7862 8000 or book online.