Dance of life and death


Four artists come together for Devi or Goddess, which combines modern dance with classical dance, and the spoken word with live instruments and vocals. Curator Joshinder Chaggar promises a show that’s both intense and light, entertaining yet experimental

In an intimate studio space setting, just above the bustling Swan St of Richmond, four diverse artists come together for the first time to perform Devi. With a powerhouse of experience in their respective fields, theatre has never looked this sassy!

The curator of the show, Joshinder Chaggar, has been exploring, directing and performing experimental dance theatre since 2006. She opened the June 2017 Kunstareal fest in Munich, Germany, with her three-hour performance art piece ‘Bird’, and in November 2017, she again performed ‘The Bird’ at the Melbourne mapping launch. ‘The Bird’, as with her other theatre productions (She Flies with the Swallows, Conversations, A love letter to Karachi), is a constant exploration of ‘What is real freedom?’

The Indian Sun talks to Joshinder to find out what ‘Devi’ is all about.

★ What is the inspiration behind Devi?

Devi is inspired by the Sufi saying, ‘Death before you die’. I really love talking about death, about changing the whole perception. We are exploring a death that is possible while we are still alive; shedding an old skin and re-writing our story. We become so attached to our ‘baggage’, to our trauma, memories, sometimes for a lifetime. We hold on to our pain as if it were our ‘beloved’. I believe the only way to shed it is through an unrelenting pursuit of your own potential.

★ How did you cast for the show?

To be honest, I think the show cast itself. In July 2017, I moved back to Melbourne after 14 years. And I wanted to share my work and stage a performance. This particular theme is something I have been working with since 2014. Initially it was a 20 minute solo, called ‘She Flies with the Swallows’, a show about emotional migration. And now I thought I should expand and join forces with local artists. And the most natural starting point for me was to collaborate with Jaya.

Jaya and I started dancing together about 20 years ago. We both started with Bollywood dance, but since then have grown into very different artists. Jaya started her own Bollywood dance company, Sapphire Dance and went into studying Bharatnatyam. She’s developed a new genre now, Bolly-Natyam, a fusion of Bollywood and Bharatnatyam. It’s so cool! Plus, she also started Studio J, a dance studio specialising in Indian dance, just over a year ago. I’m just in awe of the artist she has become. Her athleticism, strength and expressions are exceptional.

I then wanted to meet new artists and I love Spoken Word. And apparently for Spoken Word in Melbourne, Sukhjit was THE person to meet.  The moment I met this girl with the crazy curly hair and even crazier smile, I was like, ‘We have to do something together.’

And one day Jaya suggested that I should meet Parvyn, the lead female singer of The Bombay Royale, Melbourne’s original Bollywood band. I watched her perform in July for the first time, and fell in love! She’s also the daughter of the Sikh devotional singer Dya Singh and has been performing on stages around the world since childhood with her dad. To top all that off, she is also a professional Kathak dancer and teaches at Studio J. And so we met up one day, just to discuss possibilities. And in spite of being such an accomplished artist, she was keen to try something new.

So just like that, there were four of us. It was meant to be, I feel.

★ How did you pick the name Devi?

Devi means Goddess. The One, from which all the other names, qualities sprout.

And I feel it is very apt for our show. Each of us represents a very different Devi, with a very different purpose and with our own unique forms of expression.

My character is called Hajra, who is a traveller on a treacherous journey of self-discovery, seeped in fear. Along the way she meets Uma, goddess of light, played by Sukhjit. Uma reminds us of the light that shines in each of us. She sheds light on our confusion and literally lightens up the atmosphere; by her presence, her energy and her words. Kali, goddess of death, played by Jaya, shows us a very different face of death, one that is loving and not to be feared but embraced. And Jara, goddess of old age, played by Parvyn, talks about the fruit of effort and experience. About rising above a situation, gaining excellence and becoming your full potential.

★ What can we expect from Devi?

Well, you have a powerhouse of talent under one roof, so I think you can expect a lot. Each artist brings their own expertise to the table. The show will combine modern dance, classical dance, spoken word, live instruments and vocals. It will be intense but it will also be funny, and definitely very experimental.

★ Why did you pick Studio J as a venue?

Studio J is a gorgeous space, perfect for intimate theatre. And I absolutely love intimate theatre. I’ve done a lot of it in Karachi and watched a lot of it, and it really appeals to my soul. I love the feeling of being up close with the actors/performers, almost feeling like you have stepped into their personal world. The boundaries between performer and audience get blurred. Studio J is also a great location, just walking distance from Richmond station.

Devi: An experimental dance drama, curated by Joshinder Chaggar
Performed by: Jaya Karan, Parvyn, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Joshinder Chaggar
Where: Studio J, Level 1, 147 Swan St (Cnr Waverley St), Richmond
When: 23 February, at 7.30pm
Tickets: $20
For enquiries please call: 0470252305
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