Sonia Sabri

Akademi, the UK’s leading south Asian dance organisation continues its 40th anniversary celebrations with various live events, including Descendants, which is being staged at Southbank Centre in London on September 29.

The triple-bill presents bold, topical and thought-provoking work from celebrated female British south Asian dance artists, Mayuri Boonham, Sonia Sabri and Gauri Sharma Tripathi.

Eastern Eye caught up with Sonia to talk about dance and Descendants.

How would you describe your dance journey?
It’s been rewarding, exciting, challenging, adventurous, humbling, full of surprises, grounding and nourishing.

What has been the most memorable moment?
There have been a few. One was being invited to perform an evening of solo live music for the legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj. This was a big deal especially as I performed my own repertoire and my personal style of kathak, which I have been refining for years. Many kathak artists aspire to perform for him and don’t always get that ultimate opportunity. So I felt fortunate and proud of myself that I had the confidence to present something outside of the taught repertoire; my original choreography and style, yet true to the art form.

Tell us about Descendants?
Descendants brings three renowned female dance artists on to one platform, presenting their respective works at the Southbank Centre. It is part of Akademi’s 40th-anniversary celebrations.

What is the inspiration behind the piece you have produced?
I am performing a solo piece titled Spill. It’s about saving yourself from negativity, inner-self-conflict and restraints sometimes placed on us by society or even by ourselves. It’s a protest against all those things that pull us down. It’s inspired by and a homage to people I’ve come to know, who have experienced mental health issues due to pressures from family and community circles. The stories of how they rebuilt their broken selves are hugely inspiring. The piece is full of contrasts and packed with complex and intricate movement patterns derived from kathak. Spill is one of my signature pieces, illustrating my exploration of the dance form and developing an additional strand to my work – urban kathak.

How did you select the music for the piece?
The piece is composed and produced by internationally-acclaimed tabla maestro and composer Sarvar Sabri. The music is soul-stirring and funky at the same time with beautiful Iranian Neh and groovy beat-boxing.

What can we expect next from you?
I am working on projects and shows here and internationally, including collaborating with a dancer of Irish heritage and two musicians, which explores the hypocrisies of the world through our respective forms. It’s a cast of four strong empowered women and will be touring next year.

What are your future hopes for Indian classical dance?
I am passionate about Indian classical dance and grateful that I perform nationally and internationally. To have such opportunities around is promising. It is a submission of one’s life to the art form, but one lifetime is not enough as there is so much to learn and this is sometimes my nervousness about the future of its legacy. Any art practice demands one’s full dedication in order for it to be done well. This could be off putting to a growing generation that expect instant rewards for very little effort. Having said this, I am seeing increasing interest through students at my classes around the world, which is positive. I strongly believe the more visible Indian classical dance is – performed and taught by well-trained practitioners (utilising social media and advancement of technology) – the more curious and excited people will become, building new audiences and participants.

Tell us, does Indian classical dance need to combine with contemporary influences?
It depends on what is meant by ‘contemporary influences’. If it means contemporary dance forms, then I feel it’s useful to be open to different styles, to be inspired by them, to discover what is similar and what is different, and to celebrate those features within the form. More general contemporary influences in terms of music, presentational ideas, digital enhancements etc are all worth exploring as long as there is an authenticity to the work.

Tell us, what is the secret of a great dance performance?
That there is no secret.

What does dance mean to you?
Dance, to me, is my vehicle to be at my purest, my true self. It is my salvation. It is my lifeline. Without it, I am of no purpose.

www.southbankcentre.co.uk