About whirlyred

@kimblecake www.subtlekraftco.tumblr.com

Dance, Dance, Dance

On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of seeing Divya Kasturi and Shane Shambu perform a Mixed Double Bill at Southbank Centre. Both of them was presenting their own choreography in The Clore Ballroom, a space, which I have come to perceive as one of the most liberating and pleasurable places to both be in and perform in.

In this double bill Shane and Divya gave the audience an insight into the diversity that is present in South Asian dance and within that, it was also very clear that these two dancers both had their own individual interests and approaches to the movement that they had created stemming from different backgrounds and training.

Shane Shambu performed first that evening in a piece that combined visual theatre with striking physicality and artistic dexterity, all of which was deeply rooted in his Bharatanatyam training. The strong narrative drew on strong emotions that were conveyed to the audience with an intensity and clarity, thus, making it compelling to watch. Divya Kasturi’s work was one of articulated beauty, sincerity and a level of technical skill that any dancer would be in awe of. Divya’s background has seen her train in Kathak and Bharatanatyam. In addition to this she is also an accomplished singer, which her work that evening was also able to highlight.

I was completely drawn into the performances; the enticing beauty of the articulation in the hands in the mudras, the defined and eclectic use of different rhythms and how the dancers inhabited the movement in every sense, including through facial expression.

Another style in South Asian dance, which I have touched upon in a previous blog  when I interviewed Katie Ryan, was Odissi, so I thought I would just finish off this blog by sharing a little about what Katie has shared with me about it.

Odissi is a classical dance style that originates from Orissa in Eastern India. Prior to being performed as stage art, Odissi was danced in a religious context as a form of worship.

The Odissi that we see performed today takes influences from contextual sculpture and text. Odissi can be in a ‘pure dance’ form (Nritta) and ‘expressional’ (Nritya/Abhinaya) most commonly to convey a narrative.

It is characterised by two stances –

1. Tribhanga (which literally means, ‘three parts break’, so there are 3 bends in the body; at the neck, waist and knee, hence the body is oppositely curved at waist and neck which gives it a gentle “S” shape )

2. Chauka (where there is equal weight distribution, with a wide stance in the legs and outstretched arms to create 4 right angles in the body).

Then, this is layered with the intricate hand gestures, neck movements and articulations; as well as movements with the eyes and of course, the astounding rhythmical footwork.

The relationship that South Asian dance, has with the musical accompaniment I find to be jaw-dropping and beautifully hypnotic. The body becomes the artistic instrument to highlight and accent the layers of rhythm, creating complementing accents that connect the two art forms within the one performance.

Whilst learning about Odissi I discovered that a classical programme of Odissi repertoire would conclude with ‘Moksha’. Moksha is described as a pure dance piece that increases in speed. The aim is for it to be performed with a meditative feeling, where the dancer is aiming “to reach salvation through their dancing”. This demonstrates perfectly the relationship between movement and music. As a dancer myself, I find it truly fascinating and it must be absolutely wonderful when you manage to achieve that level of ‘connection’ between your body and the accompaniment.

I am desperate to try it! Who wants to come dancing?


An Introduction to Kathak

Although dance of any style and genre fascinates me, my background is in contemporary. So like you, I’m excited to learn more about South Asian dance styles.

Blogging has created the perfect opportunity to have a catch up with my dancing friend, Katie Ryan. I first met Katie four years ago, when she was a final year student at London Contemporary Dance School. As part of their BA degree programme, LCDS offer the opportunity to study Ballet or South Asian Kathak technique in support of contemporary. Katie was studying Kathak, so I thought this would be a good place to begin our conversation…

What made you decide to study Kathak alongside contemporary during your training at London Contemporary Dance School?

I had already been training in another style of South Asian classical dance called Odissi since I was 6. Although Odissi and Kathak are different in a lot of ways, there are some common principals which run though South Asian dance and I thought it would be good to keep developing my strengths in these areas whilst training in Contemporary dance.

What would you say are the fundamental differences between these two dance styles?

Although they often share the same venues and programming in a UK theatre context I would say classical forms of South Asian dance such as kathak, bharatanatyam and odissi are more parallel to ballet in that they are formal styles with a set technique and codified movement vocabulary that identifies the style and its particular aesthetic. Traditionally South Asian classical dance uses a combination of abstract and narrative composition. There is a very strong link between the music composition and movement composition – the rhythm of the percussion is mirrored by the rhythm of the dancer’s footwork, the musical phrasing generally matches the movement phrasing. Historically the narratives expressed through dance have been religious poetry set to music and interpreted by the dancers – these narratives are mostly from the Hindu mythological tradition, but there are also many Islamic influences in kathak. Many of the South Asian dance styles have evolved from temple dance forms – danced worship – to be the stage art forms they are today. Kathak has a different heritage – a combination of a storytelling tradition and a performance tradition from the royal Mugal courts gave birth to this dance style.

So…those are distinct differences in historical development, content and context.

In terms of differences in movement vocabulary and technique between kathak and contemporary, kathak would be set apart by its use of rhythmic footwork, multiple turns on the heel, detailed use of hand gesture, more limited use of floorwork (kneeling and sitting – yes, lying down and rolling – very unlikely), eye movements, animated facial expression – sometimes quite exaggerated/stylised, more limited use of jumping or rising (small jumps or rises are used, but less frequently than in contemporary).

There would be a different list again for each style of South Asian classical dance…but the common elements would be:

  • rhythmic footwork
  • animated facial expressions
  • detailed hand gestures

It is important to note that the above are all characteristics of the traditions, but they do not define it – as with all dance forms they are evolving into more contemporary/ neo-classical forms or extending the boundaries within the classical tradition.

Are there any similarities between contemporary dance and Kathak?

Hmm..tough one – it’s also very hard to define contemporary dance – which I would say is more amorphous!

Common elements between kathak and contemporary dance could be: grounded quality, a fluid movement quality, use of high speed movement… I’m sure there are more…

What Kathak dancers and performances have inspired you?

Akram Khan (Desh & Zero Degrees are my favourites)

Aditi Mangaldas

Kumudini Lakhia (choreographer and director of Kadamb)

Aakash Odedra

Yuko Inoue

Gauri Sharma – my teacher at LCDS

Urja Thakore

Diya Kasturi 

What are your top tips for anyone who would like to learn to dance Kathak?

http://www.pulseconnects.com and http://www.southasiandance.org.uk for events and classes listings.

There are lots of classes out there now and you can even do exams in kathak with the ISTD syllabus if you want. 

Katie Ryan (left) performing as part of Odissi Ensemble with Khavita Kaur. Image credit - Simon Richardson

Writing to you…

So, Monday evening I was at the Southbank Centre and there I sat on the Clore Ballroom floor as I listened to Nikesh Shukla’s talk entitled ‘The Ethnic Writer: How to Avoid Labels’.

First and foremost it was great to hear Nikesh define himself as a writer and to be so passionate about his craft.

It struck me just how important it is to believe in what you do and in what you write.

We can all be pigeon-holed in some way (in this instance, as an ‘ethnic writer’), but who is to say that we have to accept this label or indeed conform to it?

In his talk, Nikesh Shukla spoke to us about how, because publishers are interested in numbers and selling potential, it is essential that you, as a writer, know how you want to sell your writing. As a writer you also have to be your own promoter and willing to work on your own marketing too. You have to be able to talk about what you have written and what the audience will get from it.

Of course, as a writer you want your writing to have a wider appeal and you strive to get your work published. The publishing deal is the ultimate aim, but as Nikesh Shukla said, it is important to find ways of raising your own profile and raising awareness about what it is that you do. This is where social networking could prove very useful. Maybe you could host an event to showcase your own work in some way? Or find your own ways of self-promotion?

As a writer, validation from sources outside of your own family and friends (even though that is a lovely thing too!) is important in order to help you realise that your writing can have a wider appeal.

So it seems that to all those aspiring writers out there, the message is ‘keep going’!

Persevere with what you WANT to write, as Nikesh Shukla said yesterday, “as long as the piece is well-written, there WILL be an audience for what you have written”.

Happy writing!

It’s all begun…

Subtle Kraft Co.
'Cravings of Intimacy & Solitude' - Image credited to Gabriela

So Alchemy is underway. Over the next ten days we will get the opportunity to experience artistry, beauty, harmony and deliciousness as South Asia comes to Royal Festival Hall.

Alchemy explores the contrasts and connections between cultures in the UK, India and South Asia. This festival at Southbank Centre got me thinking…how do I, as an individual, as Kimberley, have a connection to both of these cultures?

In my case, my connection is simultaneously ‘very close to home’ but also, strangely far away…

I am mixed race – my Mum is from the UK and my Dad is originally from India.

However, the strange situation arises when part of your heritage remains hidden from view. So, to explain a bit more… I have been born and raised in the UK, but circumstances have meant that I have only ever known my Mum’s side of the family. Therefore, I have been raised in a Caucasian family where in fact I am the only one with a dual cultural heritage.

I was only made aware of this in my late teens, but it is a factor that greatly intrigues and interests me because as I have got older I have realised that in fact there is part of my identity that I have yet to discover and ‘get to know’.

Although I can appreciate that there is a big disadvantage to not having been bought up being dually exposed to both cultures, now I am consciously making the choice to change that by educating myself and embracing the diversity within Indian culture that is part of who I am.

I’d love to have an adventure and go to India at some point, but until I raise enough funds I am going to enjoy this exploration, satisfying my senses of sight, sounds, touch, tastes and smell with all the different events by delving head first into what Alchemy Festival has to offer. Come and join me!

Find what draws you in…what catches your eye?…What inspires you to learn more?

What or who connects you to South Asia?

Have fun discovering!!

Katie Ryan and Khavita Kaur (part of Odissi Ensemble). The photography credit is Simon Richardson

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

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: