Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 26 Jan
Nina Rajarani is not afraid to mix things up. In her latest show, the London-based choreographer has merged a typically female Indian dance style with two largely male domains: the football pitch and the financial boardroom. Not only that, she’s taken Bharatanatyam – a dance steeped in tradition – and brought it hurtling into the 21st century.
‘It’s taken me a few years to find the balance between retaining the authenticity of the traditional form, and making it relevant to contemporary audiences,’ says Rajarani. ‘People need something to relate to, and I think we close a lot of doors when we deal with traditional material, because it’s all about Gods and Goddesses.’
Rajarani’s company, Srishti has been populated by male dancers for the past few years – an unusual approach for Bharatanatyam, in Britain at least. But according to Rajarani, the style lends itself equally to both sexes. ‘Each step can be done in a masculine or feminine way,’ she explains. ‘The face is very alive in Indian dance, so the kind of smile you wear or how you move your eyes is different for a man or a woman – but the steps are performed in more or less the same way.’
Opening in Edinburgh, before touring the UK, Rajarani’s triple-bill Play Ball looks at how men behave at work, play and in love. The award-winning Quick finds eight ambitious young businessmen jostling for supremacy. In Chemistry, a male/female couple search for harmony after a lovers tiff. While Bend It . . . jumps headlong into the world of football – something Rajarani was drawn to because ‘it’s such a prominent part of British culture’. Her dancers, however, weren’t so sure.
‘When I told them we were making a piece about football, they were all horrified,’ laughs Rajarani. ‘Not one of them had ever even kicked a ball before. But a football coach came to work with us, so everyone had some proper training. And then they all did a lot of research on their own – watching football matches, chatting to friends – and they’ve been fabulous about putting in their own ideas.’