• Monday, June 17, 2024


Amina Khayyam: Tackling taboos through dance

Amina Khayyam

By: Asjad Nazir

WHETHER it is tackling taboos, finding new ways of telling stories or breaking existing rules, Amina Khayyam has always found innovative ways to present live dance performances.

Her leading dance company will present acclaimed shows You&Me and Bird in a Kathak double bill at The Place in London on June 4.

Both dissect difficult bonds in dramatically different ways, with one looking at women in abusive relationships and the other focusing on those married to gay husbands. She has assembled top dancers for shows based on real stories, which feature live music.

Eastern Eye caught up with the cool creative to discuss the show, its key messages, her inspirations and why emotion is an essential part of her work.

Where do you draw your inspirations from as a dance company?

There are many inspirations that drive our company’s work – but the main one comes from my surroundings. The experiences I encounter and women’s groups I regularly engage with through workshops have amazing stories to tell, which I like telling through dance.

I also take something from the time I spent in the studio. It is very fulfilling and exciting for me, as that’s when I’m most vulnerable and challenged to stretch the imagination and creative process.

What made you put together these two contrasting shows as a double bill?

My motivation to work with women is to give them a platform to share their stories and through them I also find myself learning about cultural expectations that restricts their lifestyle in daily life and how it affects the men in their lives. Both pieces come from there. They may seem contrasting, but do have a commonality of isolation, emotional suffering and not being in control of their lives.

Tell us about You&Me.

You&Me started from a creative expression exercise in one of the workshops, where a participant was married to a gay man who for cultural reasons was not able to openly express his sexuality. As expected of him, he married a heterosexual woman arranged by his family and began living a double life with lies and deception. This participant suffered daily in silence from the lies and deception. I further explored the subject in other workshops and found she was not alone. Hence the story in You&Me came about – I wanted to tell it where she is encouraging him to be free.

Tell us about Bird.

Bird is the stage sequel to our digital film made during the lockdown, Catch The Bird Who Won’t Fly. The horrific rise in domestic abuse during lockdown compelled us to make the film in partnership with Southall Black Sisters, with whom we were able to engage with survivors. Due to Covid restrictions, the 20-minute film was made remotely in my living room on green screen and with a team of artists.

Bird examines the dynamics between women after they leave their abusive relationship and come into contact with others in a similar situation. Initially, Bird was made with three dancers and since has been upscaled to six.

Is there a key message you want to convey with these dance pieces?

We just want the pieces to make aware of the subject matters that women share. Despite the stories coming from small grass root communities, they are universal and don’t just impact on any one section of society.

Stories of domestic violence and being gay do not recognise the colour of your skin, nor class or social status.

Is this show aimed at anyone in particular?

I always make work with an audience in mind, as it’s important for the development of its dramaturgy. We always engage with the women beyond the workshops and encourage them to attend the shows where their stories are told and are the inspiration for the stage production.

Like I said, while these stories come from small communities, they are universal and we want everyone to engage with them and experience the beautiful form of Kathak.

You are drawn towards powerful emotions in your shows…

Yes, emotion is an essential part of our work, and it’s the story that drives the emotion. We have developed a Kathak style that embeds emotion onto the body and contributes to the storytelling. In relation to how strong they are, sadly there’s nothing pretty about the stories we tell. We hope and aim that our work shows integrity, honesty and truthfully conveys their stories.

How much do all the positive reviews mean to you?

I’ll be dishonest if I said it didn’t matter what the reviews are saying – equally I don’t lose sleep over it. But I value the positive feedback I receive from the women I’m telling the stories of, and my audience. But it’s always heartwarming when reviewers understand the journey of the work I’m trying to create and importantly the nuances of Kathak.

What makes for a great dance show?

Storytelling from an honest place that touches me emotionally. I like to walk away from the show with reflections and questions; an appreciation of the aesthetic element of the show and being overall entertained and engaged.

Amina Khayyam Dance Company presents You&Me and Bird at The Place, London on June 4. Visit www.theplace. org.uk for more.

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