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Life in Lockdown: Shane Shambhu

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#GDLifeinLockdown Part 3

Life in Lockdown is a blog series initiated by Greenwich Dance which features community and professional artists close to the organisation sharing how they are staying creative during these isolating times.

Hi. I’m Shane Shambhu. I’m a writer, director and choreographer leading my own theatre company Altered Skin, which is a multi-lingual, physical theatre company sharing transcultural narratives by merging art forms and cultures from global perspectives. I’m currently Artistic Associate of CAT Yuva Gati, Associate Lecturer East 15 Acting School and Artist-In-Residence at DanceXchange.

My artistic career began as a bharatanatyam dancer, although my parents’ expectations of me were to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. However, my deep passion for bharatanatyam led me to go onto perform with a number of different artists and companies from across different performance genres over the years including, Complicite A Disappearing Number (Olivier Award & Evening Standard Award), Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, Srishti Dance Quick! (Place Prize Winner 2006), inDance (Canada), Royal Opera House, Icon Theatre Release (Fringe First Award), Theatre Ad Infinitum and Menagerie Theatre to name a few. I am also Movement Director for Young Vic Associate Company, Crying In The Wilderness Productions and have directed movement for Tara Theatre’s Game Of Love and Chai by Nigel Planer.

During my time as a performer, I had been simultaneously investigating my bharatanatyam language and exploring the narrative potential and how to cultivate this within a different cultural context. This resulted in several works including: Impermanence (Southbank Centre 2005), Leaving Only A Trace (National Tour 2010), Power Games (National Tour 2013/2014) and my current touring work Confessions Of A Cockney Temple Dancer.

I have presented talks on my investigations and the discovering of my unique approach to theatre from a bharatanatyam base including: International Platform for Performer Training (Grotowski Institute, Wroclaw), Strategies For Survival (Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity, University of Manchester), DisOrienting Bodies (Royal Holloway, UoL), Speak-Up Diversity (Chelmsford Book Festival) and Theatre & Performance Research Association.

Since the lockdown I have created a series of three-short films Floating Myths and am in the midst of developing a new work Invisible Lines.

It was the fourth Monday of the third lockdown, I’d set off (to the next room) to do what I would’ve been doing whether there was a lockdown or not, which is teaching my module Non-Western Character Acting at East 15 Acting School. The main difference today was that it was online. Hoo-f *ing-rah!! The good thing is I didn’t have to set off at some awful time in the morning to get down to Southend, however, my 14 month old son ensured that I DID have to get up at an awful time. Non-Western Character Acting???

But what does “Non-Western” actually mean? This module, through practical and contextual lectures, is where I get to share, inspire, provoke and delve into my specific approaches of working with bharatanatyam in modern-day Britain. Through this module, I unpick the political history of bharatanatyam from its time during British rule to current day interpretations of bharatanatyam in the South-Asian diaspora, question national identities of culturally different artistic languages within Eurocentric frameworks and actively provoke discussions to challenge whether the labels imposed on bharatanatyam accurately reflect the artform and its continued evolution.

But most importantly for me, as an artist I continue to develop my unique approach to devising and choreography that stems from the underlying principles and creative thinking of bharatanatyam. In this approach, the performer, participant, artist brings their own cultural, performative and creative experiences to build upon bharatanatyam principles to create an authentic hybrid performance aesthetic that merges cultures and modes of artistic expression to genuinely represent a meeting of worlds, cultures and ideas.

After my contextual lectures I’d “normally” lead practical sessions but due to lockdown I’m currently only providing online lectures and the practical work begins on the 22nd Feb. However, because of the lockdown extension it’s currently unclear what happens next. Perhaps I’ll be investigating how the principles of bharatanatyam translate into the digital creative space as a devising and choreographic tool?

Today started with my morning run (3.5km) and a short stretching session which turned into a little dance improv. I love watching myself move in the reflection of the window. Just for clarity- I’m not vain, just fascinated at the way my body has changed. And no! I’m not talking about the additional 2kg I’ve gained during lockdown! I’m talking about the changes in my body from the strictures of bharatanatyam. I could see my movement still retaining traces of bharatanatyam but also seamlessly moving between and connecting with other experiences my body remembered. I was quickly snapped out of this when my wife, Deniz, reminded me that it’s my turn to change the nappy!

I’ve had one long (-ish) meeting today with S-J, Sarah-Jane Watkinson, my lovely producer. We had a catch up and then it was down to business. This ultimately meant trying to second guess when venues are going to open, what we think might be happening and then made plans based on this but also made a number of other plans in preparation for everything to change- again. We moved onto discussions about our postponed show Confessions Of A Cockney Temple Dancer which was due to tour four cities in India in March 2020 with British Council. I was thrilled to hear that we’re continuing a relationship with British Council India through a series of online masterclasses in March 2021, which is exactly a year on from when I was supposed to be there. Thinking about it, I can’t help but feel a little upset that the show hasn’t been seen in India, well not yet.

Today my wife, Deniz Soezen, a visual artist, educator and researcher was teaching online at Central St. Martin’s (UAL), which meant I had my son for the whole day. We decided it’s dancing time. My son loves dancing, well he loves me carrying him while I dance. We bopped along to some classic dance anthems, RnB, dancehall, reggae and then moved onto Tamil movie hits and then onto Carnatic music, South Indian classical music. I also used this time (and my son) as an opportunity for resistance and weight training.

I feel like my creative energy with my son is a different sort, I’m not reaching within myself to express, but rather sharing the ways in which I do that, with him. After we’d put him to bed, I felt I needed some creative time for me. I never know how my own creative playtime turns out, I just let myself start moving and this often leads me through a thread of thoughts and then into different ways of creating whether it’s dancing, miming a story, becoming a character, speaking some poetry and sometimes writing. But the segue has always been through understanding and connecting with bharatanatyam in a new way.

Today has been a tiring and stressful day. Both Deniz and I worked from home and had to look after our son who is just getting to know the babysitter (plus he was in a foul mood -teething pain). Today, I had, surprise, surprise - another Zoom meeting! This time with CAT Yuva Gati, the South Asian dance strand of the Centre for Advanced Training where I am currently Artistic Associate and DanceXchange, where I am Artist-In-Residence.

At CAT Yuva Gati I am tasked with strategising the programme and forward pathways for young talented bharatanatyam and kathak dancers. I’ve been in the role for just over 18 months and am implementing some major changes to create a change in the way “South-Asian Dance” is viewed and understood whilst trying to create progression routes for young dancers. You can read more in this article I wrote for Pulse Magazine.

Today’s meeting was exciting and as much as I want to share the details here, I can’t. But, what I can say is that in May keep an eye out for what might be happening at DanceXchange, especially South-Asian dancers.

Guess what? I had another Zoom meeting today!! I find it ironic that for all my meetings, which often revolve around how brown artists are put in boxes, I am placed IN A BOX!!! As the meeting went on, which was about the onward plans for a work I directed last year, I discovered it was Friday but that didn’t mean anything to me anymore, it all feels like groundhog day, apart from the Zoom conversations (they are more like groundhog weeks!)

My spirits were lifted when I received a wonderful gift from my friend all the way from sunny California. It was a book she’d written, well to be honest, I knew it was coming but it took so long to get here I’d forgotten about it so it was a lovely surprise. She’d sent it to me not only because I would be interested in the subject matter British South Asian dancers in an age of neoliberalism, but because I had been interviewed as a part of it, specifically focussing on Confessions Of A Cockney Temple Dancer in relation to Brexit and the anti-immigrant rhetoric.

As it was Friday we decided to order hot Belgian waffles drizzled with nutella covered with broken Ferrero Rocher and a scoop of Gelato as a treat. Ooh! That was lovely. As I was enjoying our dessert I was trying to figure out how on earth I’ve managed to gain 2kg during lockdown!