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Preview: Khambatta Dance’s India Calling

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Khambatta Dance Company
Photo by Joseph Lambert
Ever notice that you use the exact same hand gestures as your grandmother? Or that your brother has precisely the same posture as your father? This curious phenomenon, of how gestures and mannerisms are passed down through families, is explored in India Calling, Khambatta Dance Company’s newest work. The group, under the direction of Cyrus Khambatta, will perform this new work at the KirklandPerformingCenterfor one night only on Friday, March 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm.
As KirklandPerformingCentercontinues to expand its programming to include more dance, India Calling seems like another good fit for Eastside audiences. “I believe dance is about communicating,” says Khambatta in an interview with SeattleDances. “I’m trying to communicate, and am always looking for ways to connect to people’s lives in a meaningful way that brings about introspection or self-reflection.” For this particular audience, “their access point into the work is going to be different. The interesting challenge is that they won’t be as familiar with dance and not necessarily know what to expect. They’ll connect to those things that are more human interest.” To pique this human interest, Khambatta expands on the similarities seen on a familial level by asking questions like: Is it possible that gestures are passed on through our genes? On a larger scale, does this translate to entire cultures? And how does our cultural ancestry manifest itself in our own bodies?
The original idea for India Calling came from Khambatta’s own reflection on the similarities between him and his father. Their analogous behavioral tendencies were made more remarkable by the fact that Khambatta did not know his father until he was 28 years old. “Meeting him was momentous,” said Khambatta. “There was this instant feeling of knowing this person…like a déjà vu experience. [It was] both disconcerting and comforting. I felt I was connecting to some roots.” Khambatta recounts how both his posture and hand gestures matched his father’s as well as their life interests and social mannerisms. Both were fascinated with improvisation (his father through Persian music, Khambatta through movement), both were rather idiosyncratic health nuts and environmentalists, and both had a highly presentational speaking style. Many of these tendencies hark from his father’s Parsi Indian heritage; Khambatta was deeply struck by his half-Indian background, and how much that affected him without even being fully aware of it. As a result, in India Calling he seeks to “represent a combination of East and West. Because that’s what I essentially am, a combo.”
In order to achieve this blend of two vastly different artistic sensibilities, Khambatta enlisted composer and cellist Michelle Kinney of Chicago. After having worked with her over a 10 year period when both were in New York, Khambatta knew she could handle the challenge of creating music that mixed Western and Eastern (specifically Indian) music. Kinney had already been collaborating with musician Nirmala Rajasekar, a traditional veena player. According to Khambatta, “they have created an absolutely fabulous score. It’s a unique conceptualization of how to integrate two specific musician’s styles.” Khambatta hopes the music will be an additional access point to the work, especially for the Eastside audience, who are highly music oriented. Both musicians will be joining the dance troupe to perform this Friday evening.
Another way Khambatta hopes to reach audiences is through the use of video interviews. It’s a way of “taking real people’s lives and putting them onstage.” With this medium Khambatta feels like he can “lift a little bit of the veil that we all present and go directly to audience members who are [ultimately] people walking in the street and people around us all the time.” For this particular piece, Khambatta interviewed people of varying ethnicities about the idea of cultural heritage and how it plays out in their own gestures and mannerisms. Khambatta originally comes from a theater background and always strives to bring the drama of everyday life into his pieces. “I’m trying to bring onstage these simple everyday experiences that are sometimes heroic, sometimes despicable.” He hopes audiences can connect to the fact that our lives are theatrical “and to feel that there’s a chance to create poetry in our own lives and not to have them just happen to us.”
The group will also be touring India Calling in Helena, Montana, with similar hopes of connecting to unfamiliar dance audiences. Their only performance in the area is at the KirklandPerformingCenter, this Friday evening, March 16, 2012, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available at