Continuing with my discussion with the beautiful dancer and choreographer, Sonia Sabri, who shares her thoughts on the UK dance scene and some of the work she has created.
Ashima: Describe the UK dance scene and how it applies to South Asian performing artists?
Sonia: UK is currently in a very interesting phase. The country homes a multitude of people originating from all corners of the world and thus is rich in culture. Many South Asian artists are creating individualistic work especially around identity and collaborating with other artistic mediums. Arts Council England recognizes this and is supportive wherever it can be. However, the new government changed the focus away from the arts and especially criticized dance as being ‘not important’ in people’s lives and this has led to a large cut in their funding to the arts. Many dancers, organizations and celebrities debated and campaigned to the local MP’s and government offices and provided evidence of how significant dance is in society. It feels like generally there is an ongoing struggle to get dance on the ladder of the arts hierarchy in order for it to be understood and appreciated. However, despite government’s philosophy the dance community has come together and is fighting for the shared cause.
Only a handful of South Asian dancers and organizations are supported by the Arts Council including Sonia Sabri Company and we are grateful that it acknowledges the work we do. I sometimes do feel that some dancers are trying too hard to ‘fit in’ to mainstream dance by doing contemporary techniques or organizations push artists and companies to make work of a particular aesthetic. It’s like globalizing within the dance sector. And it feels like the survivors are the ones who conform. In terms of opportunities there are more dance artists than opportunities and even fewer opportunities for South Asian dance artists. There is a lack of excellent trained dancers in South Asian styles due to the compromised seriousness of the arts and that also impacts on the accessibility and requirement of these forms to be presented.
Ashima: Sonia, that is very interesting. I love the many forms of work you produce and create. Describe a recent performance you did?
Sonia: We recently performed at UK’s most prestigious festivals : Latitude and WOMAD. Both were received very well and both had Kathak dance for the first time. WOMAD was an amazing experience. We had over 6000 people in our arena and we had a rapturous response. This is probably the largest crowd we have ever performed to in one go. As well as group pieces and only live music pieces, I presented a solo with live music and it was a feeling out of this world. There is an element of audience interaction and they all joined in. I just kept thinking “everyone here in the 21st century is enjoying Kathak right here right now!” The show felt like a pop concert with so much energy coming from the crowd. We were on a high for days afterwards.
Ashima: WOMAD sounds fantastic! What can we look forward to seeing from you this month?
Sonia: Upcoming performances include:
27th October – Jugni: Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
29th October – Jugni: Ivy Theatre, Surrey
I’m also working on a number of choreographic projects one of which includes the theatre adaptation of Umrao Jaan with Phizzical Productions.
Ashima: Thanks so much Sonia for sharing your thoughts on the South Asian dance scene in the UK! Thank you also for being a trailblazer and promoting South Asian arts. Readers can connect with Sonia via website and social media.
Facebook: Sonia Sabri Company
Photo Credit: Simon Richardson