leelasamsonHow would you describe yourself?

I am a Bharatanatyam artist continuously seeking to challenge my own boundaries. By bringing fresh, alternative perspectives to the creation and presentation of performances, my creative works are driven by a passion to inform and shift notions and perceptions of race, language, identity, the classical Indian Performing Arts and constantly defy any categorisation.

Please describe your work in three words:


How did you first hear about Akademi?

I first heard of Akademi through conversations my dance teachers, Pushkala Gopal and Unnikrishnan were having with other artists and with students. My earliest recollection is 1988.

What was your first experience with Akademi?

My first memory of connecting with Akademi was when my dance teachers took me to the Akademi offices. I cannot recall exactly why my teachers took me there, but I do remember meeting several members of staff. My first engagement with Akademi was when I had decided to take Bharatanatyam as my career and my dance teachers and Mavin Khoo, who I was further training with, suggested I attend the annual Akademi Artist Networking meeting to meet other artists.

In 2014 Shane led one of these artist development meetings, developing a talk reflecting to artists his experiences as a South Asian Dance Practitioner.

Can you remember how you felt?

Yes. I was incredibly nervous. I did not know how to converse with other artists, all I had known till this point in my life was being the solo Bharatanatyam artist. Where all the South Indian and Sri-Lankan audience would approach me to find out if I teach Bharatanatyam classes or if I would consider it and the occasional one asking “do you perform for weddings?” But at this Akademi event everyone was talking deeply about Indian dance forms, their own projects and plans. I just wondered "what on earth can I possibly speak to these people about? I don’t know anything”. I had to be taken aside by a particular artist who calmed my nerves down and explained a little bit about what networking was. I was completely outside of my comfort zone.

How did your relationship with Akademi then progress?

I performed in DAREDEVAS around 2005, At this stage in my career, there was strong focus towards developing a new dance vocabulary, a hybrid British-Indian language which was also upheld by this platform. However, on reflection it seems too early to have presented myself as a creator and would have been better to have had time to research thoroughly to discover what avenues were being explored and how.

Can you tell us about your last two projects with Akademi?

Dr Jagad & Mr Haridas, 2012: Akademi programmed Dr Jagad & Mr Haridas in 2012 performed at Rich Mix, this gave a large audience reach and recognition of new theatrical approach and presentation to Indian dance. This was an opportunity for me to present a different approach to Bharatanatyam that I had been developing for some time through various other resources. I initially wanted to undertake this research of the theatrical aspects of Indian dance within the 3-year development programme initiated by Akademi. However, the emphasis was towards abstract dance for that development programme. The fact the selection panel included only those from a dance community and none from an understanding of theatre simply meant that my ideas and theatrical explorations were not validated or supported. The response from the large audience was tremendous but post-performance the platform was unable to sustain the momentum gained.

UTKARSH, 2016: This commission felt as if it landed at the right time for me within my explorations. I decided to return to my base form of Bharatanatyam to re-examine where and what it is I’m creating and this opportunity didn’t restrict me to the confines of dance alone. UTKARSH had the most significant impact as it was not a performance platform to promote a product, neither was it to raise my profile but rather a genuine investment towards my creative process and explorations. This opportunity, given to me when I have reached a particular artistic maturity has meant that I was able to develop an exciting work that I felt proud of in my own time without the immediate pressure of delivery.

utkarsh16-shanevipul-sangoi-8996-best"This opportunity, given to me when I have reached a particular artistic maturity has meant that I was able to develop an exciting work that I felt proud of in my own time without the immediate pressure of delivery."


Why is an organisation like Akademi important?

Akademi is incredibly important as an organisation that is recognised and seen as a representative for the identity of UK based Indian Performing Artists. It is difficult to raise awareness of the complexities of our art forms, the history and its evolutionary trajectory within the UK and the global diaspora working independently within the British cultural landscape. Akademi is able to partake and represent us as a sector within the wider arts context and further push the agenda of diversity and inclusion especially at this moment in time, where issues of race and migration are at the fore of conversation and politics again. It is imperative that Akademi continue holding the fire to champion our sector and pass this down to the next generation, else we will, as a sector, have to rebuild everything from scratch again.

"It is imperative that Akademi continue holding the fire to champion our sector and pass this down to the next generation"


Image credits (from top): I-Together (2004), DAREDEVAS (2005), UTKARSH (Vipul Sangoi, 2015)


Nina Head
Artist Development and Productions