The Alchemy Festival 2011

Bigger, bolder, brighter and now in high definition.

This years Alchemy was again a festival celebrating Indian/Asian culture, but with a lot more diversity and a wide array of events to offer.  Sufism as Wikipedia states is “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purifying one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.”  It’s core is derived from the traditional teachings of Islam. The Quran and lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him.  It’s belief harnessing the individual to spiritually connect with the divine, knowing their purpose in society, environmentally & socially. Sadly Sufism today like many sects of Islam are branched off into its own category. But Sufism has been around since the beginning of Islam. Its roots stem into every part of life into the arts, lifestyle & worship. Challenging the individual to look at every part of creation, every part of our day to day actions and see the beauty of the creator in all that we do.

As someone who enjoys this so called Sufi culture I was delighted to see the Alchemy had embraced a lot more Sufi based events. Whose influence in Asia drastically impacted architecture, poetry and the arts.

There was a lot of focus and rightly so on the worldwide famous poet Jalaludin Rumi, within the Alchemy this year. Rumi is a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist and theologian. His poetry has influenced Persian literature as well as Urdu, Punjabi and other Pakistani languages. Rumi’s poems mainly focus on the concept of Tawheed (The oneness of god and longing to be with the beloved creator, and illusions and distractions of this world.) Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry, and dance as a path for reaching God. His poems only need to be read to illustrate the deep richness behind his words. And any poor description I give him through my words would not give him true justice to his poetic magnificence.

The Calligraphy In Motion event on Friday the 15th April 2011 was a fashion show, inspired by the use of dance and poetry. The models wore modern takes on traditional Asian clothing. Intricately designed and tailored with calligraphy on the fabric. Whilst an array of dancers and traditional Indian music provided an exciting backdrop for the fashion show.

On Saturday the 16th of April I was even more overwhelmed to have attended a workshop by master calligrapher Anis Siddiqui. The early 11 am start didn’t  exactly thrill me after a long week. But it was so worth traveling down to the Southbank for. I took part in an interactive workshop using bamboo as calligraphy pens and tried the traditional art of calligraphy. It felt very much like a young apprentice learning the craft from a skilled master. I also realised how incredibly hard it is to do calligraphy with one continuous stroke. Our master calligrapher told us it took him ten years to learn. This concept I totally understood, because the amount of patience and focus you have to endure is something else. When you realise bamboo pens are not the most easiest to work with. And like every craft its something that has to be mastered, in a matter of years not minutes as I would have liked sadly.

Alchemy this year for me was just everything I expected and more. I had attended and blogged on a few events last year on the Alchemy and thoroughly enjoyed it. This year I was blown away by the finite details of interweaving the Sufi culture into Alchemy, which is quite integral to many Muslim based region’s within India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. And to have had a master class with Anis Siddiqui was probably my highlight and something that I will take with me for years to come.  I don’t know how next years alchemy will top this. But a big well done to the Southbank and to all those who were involved, fantastic!

Why I do south asian dance

Gauri Sharma-Tripathi Copyright 2011 © Yemisi Blake

In response to Why Do South Asian Dance?, which was presented as part of the Alchemy Festival 2011.

As Indian classical dance continues to captivate artists and audiences all over the world, award winning Kathak Dancer and choreographer Sonia Sabri hosted and performed a unique interactive programme which took a personal look at the question ‘Why does South Asian Dance have an enduring appeal for people of all backgrounds?’. It featured two of the most famous Classical South Asian Dance styles, Kathak and Bharatnatyam, performed by two of their finest exponents in the UK today, Sonia Sabri and Anusha Subramanyam. They were accompanied by young dancers who have dedicated themselves to studying Indian classical dance in the UK today.

As a student of the Indian classical dance form Kathak, this event triggered within me the question of ‘Why does this particular dance form appeal to me?’. I started to learn this Dance Form at the age of four hence the choice was my parents, but as the years went by my intrest in Kathak grew and grew. Now when I come to think of it, I cannot imagine what my life would be without Kathak; it has become an integral part of my life and more importantly my identity.

If you are a student of a South Asian dance genre, or for that matter of fact, any dance form, ask yourself ‘What does that form mean to you?’ and I’m sure you’ll find an answer.

By Puja Mistry, Alchemist

Temples to the Courts

In response to Temple & Court, performed at Southbank Centre as part of the Alchemy festival 2011.

Temple and Court was an event that investigated Indian Calssical Dances with talks, performance and film from both British and International contributions. It explored the journey of two of the most prominent Indian classical dance genres, Kathak and Bharatnatyam, from the Temples to the Courts.

There were guest contributions from Guru Padma Sharma, Pushkala Gopal, Kathak dancers courtesy of Ankh at Encee Arts, Payal Patel, Seema Patel, Dhruti Dattani, Jesal Patel, Trishna Champaneri, Falguni Upadhyay, Shivani Sethia, Seeta Patel, Vanathi Bosch and Sri Thina.
The event started with a Ganesh Vandana ( a prayer to Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed God ) sung beautifully by Pushkala Gopal and performed by the Ankh Dancers and Sita patel and Sri Thina.

This was followed by a detailed introduction of the event by Mavin Khoo, who then went on to talk about the origins of the two dance forms in the temples and how it was used as a medium by the temple dancers, mainly Brahmins, to depict the various leela’s (pastimes) of the Gods and Godesses. This
introduction was supported by Guru Padma Sharma, who performed the kathak thumri ‘Sab Ban Than Aayi Shyam Pyaari Re’, an expressional dance, depicting the devotional love between Radha and Krishna. This was followed by a similar demonstration by Mavin Khoo in the Dance form Odissi. As the event progressed so did the journey of the two dance forms, from the temples to the courts, and at each point of progression the guest contributors gave demonstrations of how the dance forms began to evolve. There were also clips from movies to depict the era during the 1970s and 1980s when these dance forms were festival majorly used in films.

The event ended with Mavin Khoo talking about how they would continue to explore the theme of Temple and Court during next years Alchemy. So if you’ve missed this one then make sure you’re around next year, to continue on this journey from the Temples to the Courts.

by Puja Mistry, Alchemist,

Rip Fold Scrunch

Happy Easter to all at Alchemy!!!

Rip, Fold, Scrunch was my Easter treat yesterday morning in the Blue Room of the Southbank Centre. As part of the Alchemy this Half Moon production was a journey through a landscape of paper which evolved and changed through the playing of the performers. Though a show for children aged 2-5 I really enjoyed the twists and turns of Rip, Fold, Scrunch by Half Moon and wrote this little poem in response!

Enjoy the sunshine

Love ce


I have by charlotte emily

Have you ever just sat down with a piece of plain paper and made your world

inspected closely something seemingly plain to then see a welcoming face

watched a women with bells on her feet dance with a cello man

felt the rain fall from the skies of your umbrella

surfed the wind with a butterfly and kite

going higher, getting bigger

higher, getting bigger

higher, getting bigger

down down down, your giant paper shoes fall

to walk the ground once more

have you ever stopped for a moment, looked down

dug a little deeper

below the plain paper surface

only to find a rainbow beneath your feet

What is Kathak to you? Gauri Sharma-Tripathi

Copyright 2011 © Yemisi Blake

Last night in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre Aritist in Residence Gauri Sharma-Tripathi showcased a new collaboration with the Soprano Patricia Rozario. Bringing together Kathak and Opera, two traditions with a basis of story-telling, the show blended French, Hindi and English, movement and sound to a create beautiful evening of experimentation.

Here’s a snippet of Gauri being interviewed by a group of young people from Sampad in Birmingham. They were visiting Southbank Centre for the day and spent some time speaking with artists performing in the Alchemy Festival.

An Interview With Shobana Jeyasingh

In my interview with Shobana the first thing I wanted to know was the creative process she underwent with Shlomo and her dancers.

“Well I’d listened to Shlomo quite a bit. My original brief to him was to remix Steve Reich’s Come Out so obviously we had a starting point, which was the music. It really took a couple of years (Shlomo coincidently texts Shobana at this point, he will live a long life!) because he had to learn about Contemporary dance… and I had to learn a lot about him. We had version 1, we premiered it and then spent a lot more time refining and retuning. I think he’s a brilliant artist as he’s always open to change and now we’ve got to a really great place… We worked on 7’s going against 5’s so a lot of time in the studios trying out different things. You know he’s very lovely to work with.”

As a dancer that tries to blend a variety of styles I was wondering how Shobana approached this challenge.

“It’s really about what the dancers brings in the studio and it’s as simple as that. When I started I was making movements on myself and I was a Bharata Natyam dancer so was very influenced by that. Then I began working a lot more with tasks so then it was a matter of what the dancers showed me and then seeing how I could compose what I was seeing.”

Shobana gave me a key tip on how to deal with creative blocks after reassuring me that she gets them “All the time!” …Something all artists should read!

 “When you have them you kind of think “you’ll never ever going to get out of this?” But usually you just have to keep working… sometimes it’s to do with relaxing; when you care about something too much that’s when you get a block. When you relax things change.”

Finally I enquired about Shobana’s interest in dance for camera. This is what she said..

“Nowadays I think people see things in front of a screen because we watch a lot of information on a screen like a computer, videos, DVD’s and TV. So I think for choreographer it’s an important change… Filming has made such a huge difference in the way people see things in terms of close ups, zooming and multi screen. So it changes the way you look at stage as well so I think about the stage a bit like a screen in film.… The way you can erase information and edit and direct how they (the audience) can see it.  With the stage you have to work quite hard to deliver a similar type of interest otherwise it can begin to look quite historic.“

Through the Glass Brightly

Copyright 2011 © Yemisi Blake

I approach the Southbank on a lovely warm English evening feeling very excited to see my first show of Alchemy 2011 (Celebrating Shobana Jeyasingh: Through the Glass Brightly) and knowing that I’ll be interviewing Shobana after the show!!

Jude Kelly introduces the show and gives us a brief insight into the significance of Jeyasingh’s work; how it has challenged contemporary dance and that by fusing contemporary with traditional styles is what keeps it relevant. Also on a personal note that she has seen the progression of Jeyasingh’s work from her Battersea Arts Centre days and feels that this show is a way to honour the work of Shobana Jeyasingh.

Yasmin Alihabi Brown takes us Through the Glass Brightly with Shobana as we go back in time through some of her work. We see excerpts from Faultline, The Dancer’s Cut and Pantasmaton, which is even more enjoyable with Shobana and Yasmin leading us into each piece.

After a small pause we get to see the remixed Bruised Blood featuring the beat boxer Shlomo! What I find most exciting about this piece is the way the dancers respond to Shlomo’s live music. At one point the dancers enter from upstage left whilst Shlomo is using a loop station to create transfixing layers to his music. Avatâra Ayusois is the first to enter and dances a powerful feisty solo; dancers Emily Absalom and Ruth Voon who too display the same essence in their movement join her. There are impressive trios and duets throughout the piece infused in Jeyasingh’s multi-lingual movement vocabulary, which all in all left you with a very dynamic piece of choreography.