â€˜intellectual daring of a master choreographerâ€™ Dancing Times
Balbir Singh was born in India and came to England as a baby, growing up in Bradford with a love of language and literature, and an instinctive urge to move. This restlessness found expression in exercise, particularly long distance running, swimming and cycling. Though he began studying law, a chance meeting led him to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, a change in direction which would prove to be a turning point for Balbir. On graduating from NSCD, another chance encounter led Balbir to discovering Kathak, the classical North Indian Dance form, which until that point had been a closed book for the young contemporary-trained dancer. Balbir’s discovery of Kathak immediately felt like coming home – though not for the expected reasons. In fact, it was not Kathak’s cultural provenance, but its precise and mathematical use of numerically defined rhythms that entranced him. Balbir had always had a tendency, sometimes bordering on an obsession, with numbers and letters. Here at last was an outlet for his seemingly limitless capacity for finding pattern in the shapes and numbers of everyday life. This, coupled with what he himself describes as an obsessive desire to stay busy, led Balbir further into Kathak choreography as a way of making sense of the myriad thoughts and ideas spontaneously suggesting themselves to him. Ancient as the Kathak tradition is, the art form is nothing if not dynamic. Indeed throughout this formative period, Balbir was encouraged by his guru, leading Kathak pioneer and powerhouse Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar, to explore new ways of combining the Kathak and contemporary sensibilities to express his emerging artistic vision. If Balbir Singh’s creative journey has been driven at least in part by a fight against boredom, then he believes he has a duty to apply this equally to an audience. Putting
himself into the audience’s mind, he sees it as part of his role as a choreographer to ensure no-one can ever become bored during one of his pieces. That he achieves this and much more has been recognised in the form of the highest percentage increase in NPO funding of any dance company from Arts Council England, high profile Cultural Olympiad projects, selection as one of only three organisations partnered with the Royal Opera House (Links scheme) and Associate Company in Residence at University of Leeds.
More than just a dance company....
With this support, Balbir Singh has now been making dance for over a decade. Always challenging himself to grow as an artist and still finding patterns and connections wherever he goes, Balbir has amassed a formidable body of work. Though this work defies categorisation, common themes are evident. Among these, his desire to explore rhythmic pattern beyond the specialised world of dance, is perhaps the most telling. This quest to make sense of and celebrate the human body in movement has taken Balbir – and audiences – out of the theatre and into galleries, outdoor spaces and even swimming pools. Along the way, new audiences have been awakened to the language of rhythm and new forms of movement have been added to the language of dance. The following pages offer a snapshot of Balbir Singh’s creative journey, through a summary of his currently available work. It includes work for adults and children; work suited to traditional theatre spaces and outdoor festivals; intimate pieces that can be toured to smaller, rural venues and spectacular shows for large scale sporting arenas. Diverse as this offer is, this is not the journey’s end. Balbir is adamant that “there is a lot more to do than has been done.” As will become apparent, Balbir Singh Dance Company is more than just a dance company… www.balbirsinghdance.co.uk
Cover photo: Simon Wright
Decreasing Infinity 2 dancers + 2 musicians 20 minutes
decreasing infinity A dynamic male duet accompanied by live musicians (tabla and beatbox), who improvise a driving soundtrack around an intensely rhythmic structure, combining the traditional with the contemporary in a highly innovative way.
Choreographed by Balbir Singh Creative team Lighting Designer: Michael Mannion Original musicians: Kousic Sen (tabla) and Jason Singh (human beatbox) Documentary filmmaker: Andy Wood
Starting in their purest forms, seen through abstract mirrors, the mutual attraction of two distinct dance forms brings them to a collision in which both cease to exist; rather, something new is formed. Clear and sharp with mesmerising physical articulation. Decreasing Infinity performed to sell out audiences at Dublin Dance Festival and at Dance Base during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as having performed at Internationale Tanzmesse nrw. Dance filmmaker Andy Wood collaborated closely with Balbir Singh to create a film which provides a fascinating insight into the company’s unique choreographic and collaborative processes.
Photo: Maria Falconer
Decreasing Infinity will tour as part of the company’s triple bill in 2014–15.
Main image: Chris Nash 4
Trespass #II 6 dancers 35 minutes live or recorded music available
Classical Indian and contemporary dance forms collide. Developing its rhythmic structures from Kathak, visually present patterns emerge in this mostly abstract work. Kathak, executed with mathematical precision, is contrasted with the absolute looseness of contemporary dance.
Choreographed by Balbir Singh Creative team Lighting Designer: Michael Mannion Composer: Giuliano Modarelli
The two dance styles clash and collide confidently as dancers and musicians intrude on each others’ territory to produce beautiful combinations. Trespass will tour as part of the company’s triple bill in 2014–15.
Posters for Trespass explored how the physical stresses of dance are themselves a form of trespass upon dancers’ bodies. Illustrations: David Andrassy
Main image: Chris Nash 6
Play of Percentages 4 dancers + 3 musicians 25 minutes
Play of Percentages is the result of nine months of research into the impact of Kathak training on the contemporary dancer.
Choreographed by Balbir Singh Creative team Lighting Designer: Michael Mannion Composer: Giuliano Modarelli
This exploration of what happens when different worlds collide – which recurrs in Balbir’s more recent pieces – can be traced back to Play of Percentages.
play of percentages
Play of Percentages explores movement on a spectrum scale between two points – Kathak and contemporary dance. The work represents a percentage mix of influences, principles, ideas and essences of the two styles. The music is integral to the work, not just as a performance medium, but as an active ingredient in the creative process. Audiences sense this unfold throughout the performance as the work challenges dancers to explore their musicality as well as their physicality. Play of Percentages will tour as part of the company’s triple bill in 2014–15.
Photos: Gavin Joynt 8
Release 2 dancers 20 minutes
Taking as its starting point the controversial Courbet painting Origin of the World, Release explores the meaning of sexual release through an intimate male/female duet.
Choreographed by Balbir Singh Creative team Composer: Jesse Bannister Lighting Designer: Michael Mannion
The original musical score created for Release enhances and highlights the recurring theme of tension and resolve. The nature of Indian Classical Dance is reflected in the music. Both disciplines are expressed through complex time cycles, melody and movement which seamlessly merge to create the dynamism, excitement and intricacy of this piece. As the relationship between the dancers unfolds, we discover in the human body’s natural urge for sexual release and orgasm a fundamental dynamic of the cycle of life itself: ‘release’ is seen as Mother Nature’s device to ensure procreation. The physical, mental and instinctive ways through which this is manifested in human desires and sexual tensions, are compellingly explored in this atmospheric and pulsing piece of new work.
Photo: Simon Wright 10
Full Contact 60 minutes
Small scale: 2 dancers, 1 storyteller, recorded music Large scale: 10-20 dancers, 1 storyteller, 4 musicians + brass band
A celebration of the world cup rugby league Full Contact is a blend of story, music and dance, specially commissioned by Leeds Inspired to celebrate the Rugby League World Cup 2013.
Conceived, choreographed and directed by Balbir Singh. Creative team Composer: Jesse Bannister Storyteller: Dan Mallaghan
Working with members of the Rugby League and dance communities, Balbir Singh Dance Company explores the rich and often little known history that helped make the game â€“ and Leeds â€“ what they are today. Tough, passionate, moving, at times strange and even hilarious, the story of Rugby League is awash with incredible incidents that live on in the memories of fans and players alike. Full Contact celebrates this shared history and brings the worlds of Rugby League and contemporary dance theatre into full, explosive contact.
Illustration: David Andrassy
Photo: Malcolm Johnson 12
Synchronised 60 minutes Large scale: 50 meter pool, up to 150 performers Small scale :25 meter pool, 30 performers with some live music
Synchronised was commissioned as part of the cultural programme for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Synchronised premiered with a cast of over 150 performers: dancers, swimmers, musicians and a choir in a 50 meter pool spectactular.
Concept/Choreographer/Director: Balbir Singh Creative team Synchronised Swimming Choreographer: Heba Abdel Gawad Rehearsal Director: Leonard Jackson Composer: Jesse Bannister Lighting Designer: Michael Mannion
Merging sport and art in an unforgettable celebration of culture in the UK’s Olympic year, Synchronised draws on classical Indian Kathak dance, synchronised swimming and contemporary dance. Paying homage to Busby Berkeley’s ‘water musicals’ of the 40s and 50s, the show is a myriad of cultural fireworks which appeals to audiences of all ages. Synchronised is a collaboration between pioneering choreographer Balbir Singh and former Olympian Heba Abdel-Gawad, who joined forces to create an extravagant explosion of genres alongside world renowned composer Jesse Bannister, BAFTA filmmaker Terry Braun and Lighting Designer Michael Mannion.
Photo: Tim Smith
The show takes the audience’s imaginations away from seeing a swimming pool into the world of different rivers, from the Ganges to the Nile, from the Mississippi to the Amazon, seen through the eyes of a young girl and her adventures with a sea serpent. Main image: Simon Wright 14
The Roundness of 12 4 dancers 60 minutes
the roundness of 12 A new full length dance theatre performance to celebrate the world’s greatest cycle race, the Tour de France, and the Grand Depart in Yorkshire in July 2014.
Conceived, directed and choreographed by Balbir Singh
Year after year, since its start in 1903, the Tour de France has brought together millions in admiration of the race and the racers. Using the event’s rich history as a starting point, The Roundness of 12 saddles up for a journey through the ages, exploring the untold tales of the Tour de France and its links with Yorkshire. Performed by dancers and community performers, the piece revolves around a central theme of the wheel, explored through a series of happenings and performances reminiscent of street theatre.
The Roundness of 12 is performed – partly on foot, partly on wheel – by riders and dancers who grapple with conflicting and complementing ideologies, exploring man’s dependency on his innovations and his addiction to adrenaline and power. This fantastical physical theatre performance is full of awe and excitement for family audiences.
Main image: Jude Photo Agency (permission being sought)
Hopscotch 3 dancers, 1 musician 40 minutes outdoor spaces (adaptable)
The ingredients: Hopscotch board A sign saying No Hopscotch Allowed A musician sentry patrolling the area Enter the dancers...
From this starting point the piece explores the many facets of Hopscotch through dance and storytelling. How to play the game without playing the game. Who will win? The dreamer, the mischievous one or the sensible one? Will the musician stop them or join in? At the same time as adults how do we relate to the game and who we
Main image: Sophie Highland (permission being sought) 18
were as children and what would happen if we were playing with a younger version of ourselves? The piece draws upon the storytelling, rhythmic and counting aspects which are central to the classical Indian dance form of Kathak. Calling on audience participation, Hopscotch is a fast-paced and playful piece performed by dancers, actors and musician.
A Solo Duet 1 dancer Danced by Sooraj Subramaniam 20 minutes
A Solo Duet has been made for one dancer – yet it required two dancers to make it. To create A Solo Duet, Balbir Singh worked with two dancers together in the studio. But from the outset, his intention was that in the final piece only one would take to the stage.
a solo duet “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.” Richard Dawkins, Unweaving The Rainbow
By developing the work in this way Balbir enables audiences to glimpse a normally invisible relationship: between the real and the imagined, the actual and the potential. A Solo Duet oscillates and shimmers before the audience. Literally it is a solo, yet at times we have an almost tangible sense of witnessing a duet. Suffused with echoes and surrounded by ghosts of the non existent, A Solo Duet asks us to consider: who are we, that are here? And who, among those that do not exist, are joining with us in our own duet?
Photos: Andy Wood 20
jarooS 1 dancer Danced by Sooraj Subramaniam 60 minutes
A full length programme consisting of four solos, showing the versatility and skill of much sought after dancer Sooraj Subramaniam.
jarooS takes the audience on a journey through the form of the Classical Indian solo presentation, with solos from three different classical Indian dance styles – Odissi, Bharata Natyam and Kathak – finishing off with a fourth contemporary piece, A Solo Duet, with which we arrive in the present. A note on Classical styles Odissi originated in the temples of Orissa, with delicate upper body movement combined with firm and solid footwork, a juxtaposition that brings the style to life. Bharata Natyam, from the South of India, involves strong angular earthy movements and the body creating shapes and lines with rhythmic footwork. Kathak comes from the North of India, where Kathakars or storytellers depicted the epics and myths through dance, combined with music and poetry. Characterised by fast footwork, complex rhythms, graceful use of the arms and wrists and fast spins. (Tarana choreographed by Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar)
Main image: Robert Bloomfield 22
Photos – top: Jim Rowbotham; above: Prathap Ace
A Solo Duet, from the other side of the world... Taking the concept behind Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow (see page 20) this piece, made for one dancer, involved two dancers in the making. Exploring the relationship between the real and the imagined, the dancer is surrounded by the echoes and ghosts of the non existent; the could-have-been.
India’s Divine Dancer: Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar
Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar, master of Classical Indian dance and natural storyteller, leads you through an entertaining and accessible presentation of Kathak in its purest form. Pratap Pawar is a world renowned dancer, choreographer and teacher, and one of the greatest proponents of the form. He is the first disciple of the legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj. Pratap Pawar has come to be known as “India’s Divine Dancer” and in 2008 received the Padmashri award from the Government of India in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the arts globally. Feted in his own country wherever he goes, Pratap Pawar has also made a lasting mark on the international dance scene. As a daring pioneer he was the first to fuse Kathak with Flamenco. He was asked to take residence in England in the 80s and began teaching Kathak in London as the first step to what the Kathak scene has now become. Throughout his career he has worked to popularise Indian dance forms with the aim of creating a greater cultural understanding, and has continually innovated by combining Kathak with other dance and musical forms. With his own UK-based Triveni Dance Company, formed in 1980, Pratap Pawar has toured his work internationally.
Main image: Simon Richardson 24
With a career spanning six decades, Pratap Pawar has a lifetime’s body of work that can be adapted for presentation across different settings and stages. As he himself says: ‘Kathak is like an ocean, there is so much to learn and to perform.’ This programme provides audiences with a glittering drop in that rich and, thanks to Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar, now global, ocean.
Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar’s career spans six decades. Pratap Pawar in 1959 (above) and today (left).
Pratap Pawar’s unique personal style – unostentatious, serene and blending precision footwork with aesthetics and imagery – continues to exert a formative influence on the work of Balbir Singh, whose guru he has been for over a decade.
Work at a glance
Play of Percentages
Ch an ildren da du lts
Sp au orts die nc es
Ge au nera die l nc es
Int e fes rnat i tiv als onal
Ou fes tdoo tiv r als
Alt e sp rnat ac es ive *
Th e sp atre ac es
Du (m ratio inu n tes )
For all enquiries, email: email@example.com
The Roundness of 12
A Solo Duet
Indiaâ€™s Divine Dancer
* Alternative spaces have included: libraries, music venues, rugby grounds and swimming pools. Please contact us to discuss your ideas.
Telephone: +44 77 909 19398
Balbir Singh Dance Company Yorkshire Dance 3, St Peterâ€™s Buildings Leeds LS9 8AH United Kingdom
Follow BSDC: twitter.com/balbirdance facebook.com/balbir.singhdance www.balbirsinghdance.co.uk
Photos (from left to right): Tim Smith; Hannah Stretton; Garden of Dreams; Chris Nash; Tim Smith; Amanda Crowther; Gavin Joynt; Gavin Joynt; Tim Smith.
** The Triple Bill includes Decreasing Infinity, Trespass II and Play of Percentages.
Designed and produced by Andrassy Media
‘brings together contemporary dance and Indian Kathak with strength and precision’ The Scotsman ‘Singh is an exciting, supremely energetic choreographer’ The Stage
www.balbirsinghdance.co.uk BSDC is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and works with the Royal Opera House through its Arts Council England funded ROH Links scheme, part of the broader ROH Connections. BSDC is an Associate Company of the University of Leeds and is part of the CidaCo Creative Capital programme.
Published on Dec 4, 2015