A collision of cultures: Balbir Singh on trespassing styles

Balbir Singh believes hes doing something completely unique in choreography a common hope among choreographers I imagine. But not many are focusing so specifically on bringing together two seemingly opposing dance styles: Kathak and Contemporary dance. So it might be safe to say Balbir is right.

His new works performed by the Balbir Singh Dance Company Trespass comes toThe Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome this Thursday 5 November at 8pm. Like previous works, it focuses on the synthesising the rigidity of traditional Indian dance Kathak and fluiditt of modern classical dance contemporary.

Balbir Singh Dance Company. Photo: Gavin Joint

Balbir Singh Dance Company. Photo: Gavin Joint

But this piece looks at the way the dance styles encroach on each other in different ways. But the concept of trespassing rolls out in a number of different forms in the piece. We spoke to Balbir while the company were rehearsing for the show. He said:

The dance is looking at the concept of trespassing in a number of ways: one style of dance intruding on another, or the way the inside and outside of a dancer (the inside of a dancers body being a physical mess) encroaching on the outside represented in the Xray style image above. Its very much an organic relationship with the music.

Music forms an integral part of Balbirs work. With four musicians sharing the stage with the four female dancers, the two art forms bounce off each other and intrude on each others territory in the work.

Its very much a dialogue between the two, said Balbir. I think the audience, even an uninformed audience, will get the connection between the dance and the music and an informed audience will see a complexity in the work.

With whole sections of the music driven by the Indian Tabla drum, the fundamental rhythms and starting points of the dancing come from the Kathak style. But Balbir is wary of using the term fusion to describe the bringing together of the two dance styles and two arts forms on stage.

BSDC - Trespass 01

Balbir Singh Dance Company. Photo: Stephen Berkeley

He is also aware commentators will try and draw on his own cultural heritage as an influence on the dance. But, growing up in Leeds and Bradford, it wasnt until his adult life that Balbir explored Kathak dance and his personal heritage as a Sikh. He is adamant the only cross-cultures he had growing up was moving from Bradford to Leeds. He said:

I have been exposed to different styles so it has informed me as an individual. I work in an organic way drawing upon the energy of the performance space and the skills of the dancers and musicians. My work is about serving the art form and doing it justice.

Contemporary dancers in his company have been learning the traditional Kathak style for nine months and dancers from both disciplines find new challenges from training in a new style.

The contemporary dancers suddenly realise they have arms (which are often neglected in contemporary dance) so they are awakened to the fact they have hands and fingers.

I think both styles are equally valued, have voices, and points of validity. Theres a real richness of Kathak that gives you an awarenss of the body.

It takes the dancers out of their comfort zones so its mentally challenging

Trespass is performed in a double bill with Play of Percentages, and in comparison to his previous work Balbir says the new dance is very fresh and strong. He is looking towards working more on the new piece before touring and creating a duet for two males one form Kathak and one from contemporary backgrounds as he says he is now interested in the dynamics of all-male dancing.

To find out more or to book tickets (7.50) for Thursdays performance visit DanceXchanges website.