Dancers take music and movement into uncharted lands
Jackie Butler previews a new show that builds bonds between dance disciplines and diverse global cultures.
Worlds and disciplines collide in an innovative new stage production that combines the extraordinary talents of dancers Ajeesh K Balakrishnan from Bangalore and Devon-based Kay Crook, with the words of writer JoJo Spinks, and the vocal delivery of urban poet Steve Duncan.
Antara – which means "between" in Sanskrit – premieres at Exeter's Phoenix next week, followed by just a handful of exclusive showcase performances which seem destined to herald much wider critical acclaim.
In it international star Ajeesh portrays a third-generation Indian Brit who is on a journey to reconnect with his culture and regain his sparkling love. His story is delivered in a bold, innovative mix of poetic narrative, music and dramatic movement.
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"It's very ambitious and we are weaving all these disciplines together very carefully," reveals Kay, who has been rehearsing hard at the Northcott Theatre with Ajeesh and the rest of the production team this week. "But it is in unknown territory that the most exciting things happen."
Drawing on references in the ancient Vedic texts to the "ties" that bind the inner and outer worlds, Antara explores the space between science and spirituality, seeking to soothe the aching disconnection of modern living.
"Ajeesh's character is on a quest to find himself. His nan has just died and she was his last connection to India; it makes him question everything he is," explains Kay.
"Then he meets Vega, who becomes his guiding star for his journey – astrology is a strong element in Indian culture. He finds out that you don't have to be one thing or another; being between is something too."
The production represents the realisation of a long-held dream for Exeter-born and raised Kay, 24, who became fascinated by Indian dance when she was in her teens. She had been dancing, acting and performing since she was tiny, but nothing captivated her in quite the same way.
"I just fell in love with it," she says, simply. After studying for a contemporary dance degree, followed by a Masters, she determined that her next step would be a trip to India.
Her target was the world-renowned Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts where she both taught and studied for six months last year.
"From doing that I met loads of different dancers, including Ajeesh who was in one of the repertory companies connected with Attakkalari," says Kay. She taught Ajeesh, 31, contemporary dance and he taught her elements of the famous ancient southern Indian martial art of Kalaripayattu, bits of which are employed in Antara.
The Interwoven Productions project also benefits from the artistic direction of Amanda Knott, and the musical input of Cameron Crook.
Antara is premiered at Exeter Phoenix on Thursday, August 15, at 8pm, followed by a post-show talk. It's at the Bridport Arts Centre on September 10 and Tacchi Morris Arts Centre, Taunton, on September 11.