A bit of ‘Morning Yoga’

As part of Southbank Centre’s Alchemy there will be a free yoga session every morning at 10.15am. I have a bit of a ‘soft spot’ for yoga so this is a pretty ideal part of the programme for me so I thought I would write a little blog post to give my take on it.

Yes, I am a contemporary dancer and I find yoga to be an incredibly valuable and fulfilling part of my training, but please don’t assume that I am by any means highly skilled or knowledgeable about it. As a dancer who uses a wheelchair I must admit that prior to ‘wheeling in’ to my first every yoga class four years ago, I too was guilty of wrongly assuming that yoga was mainly about extreme stretches and getting your body into crazy positions. However, I am pleased to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Here are some of the key aspects from that first yoga class that have stayed with me:

  • A yoga class is NOT a competitive environment.
  • Practicing yoga is about working WITH your own body and getting to know how YOUR body works.
  • The class is a time set aside to focus on you – in that moment.
  • ‘Letting go’ of everything else.
  • Finding versions of the postures that work for your body. Using the key principles of each posture to make any necessary adaptations.

Practising yoga aims to find a way of uniting mind, body and spirit. But alongside this, yoga is undoubtedly an unbeatable form of physical exercise that works and challenges the body. Finding your own physical journey through the postures to develop core stability, muscle tone, strength and flexibility.

There are many forms and ways of practising yoga; including Hatha, Ashtanga, Scaravelli, Vinyasa. I cannot pretend to have any theoretical knowledge of the different practices, but what I do know is the type of yoga practice that works for me and my body. And that is the best advice I can give you, find what works for you. Whether you want/need slow, calming, gentle stretches, or a more dynamic fast-paced yoga class that will contribute to your cardio fitness, there will be something for you.

Trust me, yoga doesn’t have to be intimidating, in fact it’s pretty amazing to do! Come and have a go at some free Morning Yoga during Alchemy this April.

*Image via We Heart It

A beginner’s guide to Bollywood

Bollywood is the world’s biggest film industry, churning out twice as many films a year as Hollywood and with a bigger audience too. Despite its global reach, it’s still alien to most folk and evokes images of dancing around tree-trunks, navel-gazing (literally), dodgy editing and even dodgier bad guys. But there’s a lot more to it. Modern Bollywood has high production values and budgets to rival Hollywood. But for me, the best of Bollywood lies in its Classics. The late 1940’s to 1960 were known as ‘The Golden Age’. Newly independent India was churning with creativity and it found its outlet in the country’s rapidly developing film industry. The exciting lives of the stars of this new world added spice to the lives of many ordinary people, who saw the big screen as an escape from the grind of day-to-day poverty.

Stars such as the phenomenal Dilip Kumar and handsome Raj Kapoor charmed with their raffish presence, and sirens like Madhubala and Vyjayanthimala stole hearts. Many great epics were born at this time. Barsaat (1949) set the tone with grand sets and dramatic cinematography and was a precursor to films such as the opulent Mughal-e-Azam (1960) which cost $3 million to make at a time when the average Bollywood film came in at under $200,000. At the same time, Bollywood developed an interest in bringing social realism to the masses with films such as Pyaasa (1957), made by the profoundly talented but tragic Guru Dutt and Footpath (1953) directed by Zia Sarhadi (my grand uncle!). Despite drawing great critical acclaim both in India and overseas, they were not box office successes. Indian audiences wanted escape, not reality.

Later on, the 60’s and 70’s also gave birth to some profound work – Aradhana (1969) documents the struggles of an unmarried mother – a taboo in India even these days. And blockbusters like Sholay (1975), managed to perfectly deliver the classic formula of great screenplay, lavish dance numbers, loveable good guys and one-dimensional villains – the staple of what came to be known as the ‘Masala Movie’.

Classic Bollywood was never about technical brilliance. The editing is done on a butchers block, most of them go on way too long and often the characterisation is clichéd and one-dimensional. What they lack in technical prowess though, they make up in sheer charm. Despite their many flaws, the films are powerfully emotive – I defy you to sit through one and not find yourself laughing, crying and, quite possibly, standing up and dancing.

So get some friends together, grab a DVD, and get ready to enter a new world.

Where on Earth is South Asia?

Hands up: who can mark South Asia on a map? I certainly can’t, or at least I couldn’t before I started writing about it. At first I guessed it to be somewhere around Indonesia, but while that is just about the most southerly point in Asia, it’s very much Southeast Asian territory. Surely it’s just anything south of the enormity of China, then? Wrong again.

In truth, it’s a trick question: no one knows exactly where South Asia is, because a formal definition has never been settled upon, and classification thus varies depending on who you ask. Having said this, most commentators do agree on seven core nations: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (you don’t need to know what they do, just that they’re a big authority who really ought to know what their geographical remit is) consider Afghanistan to be South Asian too, while the United Nations, who you’d think would be a veritable source, also add Iran to the mix. Then there’s a host of other organisations who weigh in with their own various ideas of what constitutes South Asia, all of which combines to create more confusion than clarity.

Himalayas (Flickr credit: ilkerender)

The good news is that none of this matters much anyway, because the people of South Asia – wherever that may be – don’t really identify with a geopolitical label. Instead, it is geography that defines their collective identity, or, more specifically, the barrier of mountain ranges that cover Central Asia like a scab, creating a division between land masses that has had a greater influence on the evolution of culture and growth of nations than any governing body.

The amphitheatre of earth that cradles South Asia is formed primarily by the Himalayas, which stretch dominantly across the northern borders of Bhutan, Nepal and India, before crumbling southwards to divide western Pakistan from Afghanistan. They are met at the other end by the northern reaches of the Arakan Mountains, which crawl up the edge of Myanmar and tumble down upon India’s north-eastern annex. Place all of this on a map and South Asia suddenly announces itself like a stone relief.

By all accounts, India is the centrepiece of the sub-continent, both in terms of size and status, which is why it features prominently in Southbank Centre’s Alchemy programme. The world’s seventh largest and second most populous country occupies around three quarters of South Asia’s spread, and packs far more people into its borders than the region’s other nations combined. The closest comparison is made with Pakistan, a country whose GDP was barely over a tenth of India’s last year.

Taj Mahal (Flickr credit: snikrap)

Facts and figures paint just part of the picture, however. South Asian countries are inescapably bound together by their geography, which means they share many cultural similarities, but they are also very much independent nations with individual identities, where Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists coexist, and where a single border might separate tens of distinct languages and divide completely separate currencies.

Equally, it is a region influenced from beyond its vague boundaries, in spite of the great walls of rock that stand in the way like crumples in the world map. I’ve always associated Afghanistan and Pakistan more closely with countries like Turkmenistan and Iran, for instance, while Myanmar, in my mind, is an extension of the familiar backpacking haunt of Southeast Asia, especially now that it’s beginning to open up to visitors.

And we haven’t even touched upon Sri Lanka and the Maldives yet, islands which are dictated more by the tide than by any neighbouring nation, and which present an entirely different cultural landscape to anything else on the sub-continent. They add even more complexity to a melting pot of traditions and life that defies any kind of succinct summarisation or classification, yet manages to captivate and inspire anyone who endeavours to discover it. Perhaps that’s the only way South Asia can really be defined.

Images by ilkerender and snikrap

Meet Alchemy blogger Kimberly


Kimberley Harvey is a freelance contemporary dancer and dance teacher. She has performed in a variety of dance projects over the years, some of which have been on the Clore Ballroom floor and around the building of The Royal Festival Hall.

Kimberley came to dance in 2000 when she was one of the founding members of Candoco’s youth dance company, Cando2.

After graduating from Candoco Dance Company’s Foundation Course in Dance for Disabled Students she went on to be one of the emerging artists on Candoco’s 3 year Moving Bodies programme; and became an Associate Artist with the company.

Kimberley is also a dancer and co-choreographer in Subtle Kraft Co. with Anna Bergström. Earlier this year they performed their debut work ‘Cravings of Intimacy & Solitude’ at The Place in London as part of Resolution! 2012.

Dance is well and truly my first love, but I do enjoy getting lost in the world of writing now and again, so blogging for the Southbank Centre during Alchemy seemed like a great way to infuse writing with my thirst for the arts.

(Photography by Gabriela Restelli)

Kimberly’s Top Five Festival Picks…

1. Moni Mohsin, Rosie Thomas, Farahad Zama: The Many Faces of Love
I am fascinated by human psychology, our perceptions and indeed, perceptions of love. Love is such a complex emotion and I am intrigued to see the different ways that these authors write about love, alongside where and how their thoughts on the subject may be similar or different.

2. Nikesh Shukla – The Ethnic Writer – How to Avoid Labels
Again, this links to my interest in psychology and the notion of ‘labelling’. How labelling is so often immediate, but yet unconscious. Does the label refer to an aesthetic, assumption or a combination of both? When is labelling negative? Can it ever be something positive? Can you ever choose the label?

3. Morning Yoga
As a dancer, I love yoga and its something that I practice on a personal level. A widely held assumption with yoga is that you have to be super-supple…this just isn’t true! Yoga is about working with your own body and getting to know and understand more about your physical (and emotional) self.

4 & 5. ‘The Art of Seeing’ and ‘The Art of Listening’
I chose these as my final two festival picks because I am always keen to maximise the potential of any experience. As a dancer I am fascinated by the notion of different levels of awareness and the effect that it has on the body.

Find Kimberly on the web:

Meet Alchemy blogger Kerry

ImageKerry is a writer, stylist, digital consultant, editor, blogger and vintage dealer based in London. Hailing from the North of England Kerry studied English in Cornwall and Manchester and currently writes and edits for a number of online and off-line publications. Kerry also offers advice on Digital Branding, manages marketing campaigns for fashion clients, edits websites and provides creative input to a variety of campaigns and projects. Also a published poet and vintage fashion dealer Kerry spends her spare time working on her own blog, Tricky Customers, scouring markets and baking cakes.

Kerry’s Top 5 Festival Picks:

1. Alchemy Catwalk
It’s always great to see collections by designers and India has such a strong aesthetic identity. The venue, The Clore Ballroom in The Royal Festival Hall is also going to be stunning.

2. Hetain Patel & Shane Solanki: Work in Progress
Creative collaborations are often very interesting and the exploration of language and communication is very close to my heart as a writer.

3. The Brit Pak
Being introduced to new artist is always exciting especially when the art comments on social issues.

4. Taste of India
I adore authentic Indian food as it’s so full of flavour and love to watch it being cooked by the experts.

5. Asian Dub Foundation
Asian Dub Foundation are musical pioneers who have encouraged more and more people to perform and listen to Asian music. Their political background, musical sound and influence makes this band  fascinating and unique.

Find Kerry on the web:
Tricky Customers blog
Tricky Customers Tumblr

Meet Alchemy blogger Alex

ImageAlex grew up in Telford, Shropshire, and is immensely grateful to that town for instilling within him a desire to move as far away as possible. That desire took Alex first to Manchester, where he attained a first-class honours degree in Music, and then on a 6 month trip around the world, starting in Delhi, India, and working his way across Southeast Asia, Australasia and South America.
It was thanks to this experience that Alex was named one of the Guardian Readers’ Travel Writers of the Year in 2010, an unexpected achievement which eventually led to London, where he joined the team at My Destination as a Travel Content Writer. Once here, Alex was able to indulge in his fascination with the written word, a fondness for referring to himself in the third person, and a deep infatuation with culture and the arts. When he’s not at work, Alex is either travelling to or from work, burning the frying pan, or getting distracted by social media, often at the same time.

Alex’s Top 5 Festival Picks…

1.Taste of India
It’s not just the taste of India you’ll find here, it’s the sights, sounds and smells, the essence of Indian life. There is no other event at Alchemy that will transport you to a different time and place quite so convincingly as this.

2. Pete Lockett Rajasthan Collaboration
In musical circles, Pete Lockett’s name is met with reverence and respect, a startlingly versatile percussionist whose skill and experience is rivalled by few. It’ll be fascinating to see the chemistry he’s established with this group of musicians from the villages north of Jaipur.

3.The Art of Listening
It’s easy to gravitate towards the familiar format of concerts and performances when it comes to the arts, but Alchemy is about so much more than that. The Art of Listening is a chance to learn about how to maximise the concert experience by focussing on how we engage with sound, a skill that is tragically neglected and underestimated by many.

4. Shiraz and the Sabri Ensemble
Combining mediums as only Southbank Centre can, this event will appeal to music and film lovers alike. In typical Indian fashion, it’ll stimulate the senses and inspire the heart, with genre-mixing music set against a visual backdrop that focuses on India’s greatest monument: the Taj Mahal.

5.Urban Vani
When I first saw Shlomo, at a percussion festival in 2007, he completely transformed my concept of what a musician is, and blew my mind in a way that has never been equalled. Although I don’t know a great deal about the other performers, if they’re sharing the bill with Shlomo this event is guaranteed to be unmissable, no doubt a great opportunity to challenge preconceptions and absorb new ideas.

Find Alex on the web:
Groupon Blog

Meet Alchemy blogger Sadaf

ImageSadaf Ahmed is the founder of Bollywood Bitesized, which aims to get more people interested in vintage Bollywood film by presenting edited films in an immersive, themed space and combining them with live music, dance and performance.

Prior to this, she spent ten years in television and print journalism. Her broadcast work included working on award-winning feature length documentaries ‘The Age of Stupid’, about the impending environmental crisis, and ‘Injustice’ about deaths in police custody. She then moved into print journalism and joined The Voice, Britain’s seminal black newspaper, as a reporter.

Next, she obtained a place on The Guardian newspaper’s ‘Trainee Scheme for Promising Journalists’. Soon after, she became pregnant and left full-time employment but continued to freelance, contributing to a variety of blogs and publications including Catalyst magazine and the blogs Pickled Politics and Liberal Conspiracy.

Sadaf really loves old stuff. Especially old films, and is on a mission to get everyone else loving them too.

Sadaf’s Top 5 Festival Picks…

1.Shiraz & The Sabri Ensemble
Fantastic concept! Take a vintage film, in this case a silent one, and put a live score to it. And it tells one of the most poetic love stories of all time, the Emperor Shah Jahan and the love that led to the building of the Taj Mahal.

2. Asian Dub Foundation
Seminal fusion band. I grew up with these guys and despite their success they remain innovative and full of integrity. Their live score to The Battle of Algiers at The Hackney Empire in 2004 was one of the most mind-blowing film/live music events I’ve ever been to.

3. Charity Shop DJ
I love these guys! They contacted me soon after I started Bollywood Bitesized, and after we’d had a chat it was clear that they’re doing with music what we’re doing with film. That is, taking the music loved by another generation and introducing it to a new one. And in doing so they’re bringing grandparents, mums, dads and the hip-kids together.

4. Mushaira and poetry recital
Many a Saturday morning in our household was filled with the sound of my dad’s Urdu poetry. He’s from Lucknow, renowned for it’s culture and he really instilled a love for wordplay and verse in me. It also goes someway to explaining my discomfort with bad language. Urdu is a language without swearwords, instead, rapier wit is the weapon of choice.

5. Bollywood Dance Workshop
I’ll definitely be making my way down to one of these workshops to bust a move. There’s a lot of great dance events on during the festival but these workshops are a really fun and accessible introduction to this increasingly popular form of South Asian dance.

Find Sadaf on the web