WORK by AMINA KHAYYAM
Amina is a British Asian Kathak performer, choreographer and dance theatre maker. She trained with Alpana Sengupta in Croydon who instilled in her a deep passion to pursue dance as a profession that was later shaped by Sushmita Ghosh at The Bhavan in London. Amina’s performances range from international stages to local schools, community centres and charities, including large-scale public art works.
Amina holds that the South Asian dance form, Kathak, is constantly evolving and shaped by the contemporary zeitgeist. She incorporates progressive themes related to gender and migrant identities inflected by class and ethnicity. Her performance and installation, ‘Athma’ exemplifies an innovative collaboration with Asian underground DJs that took place in the 1990s before the digital capture age.
Her dance is intricately woven with abhinaya (gestural facial expressions) that draws inspiration from both Asian and European traditions as in ‘Amina Khayyam in Salam Pose.’ Lokendra Arambam, the renowned theatre director from Manipur in India with whom she worked on ‘Stage of Blood’ was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. Staged on the River Thames in west London, the performance skillfully deployed ‘shamanistic’ techniques that were developed through intensive workshop processes. The workshops required dancers to harness emotions in order to drive movements in a performance. Such emotive processes have become a hallmark for Amina and her dance troupe.
In her earlier years, Amina’s relationship with Kathak was marked by difficulties as she tried to escape cultural restrictions to attend classes – a world she has not forgotten but returns to so as to inform her performances. This ability to return to the starting point in life is exemplified in ‘One’. This artwork draws from the cyclic phenomenon in Indian classical arts, and the idea of cyclical time. Using the beats of the rhythm cycle, she questions the parochial treatment of migrants, whose unchangeable status as a refugee or foreigner is trapped in a cycle of discrimination. In ‘One’, the rhythm cycle and the narrative structure is attuned to the gesture of the arc. Incorporating nritta (rhythmic dance movement) and nritya (dance acting), she uses costume, movement, space and music to capture the first beat of the cyclic time and nest it until it becomes ‘one’ again.
Amina develops new approaches to her abhinaya by bringing the influence of European experimental mime theatre movement. In ‘A Thousand Faces’, she deconstructs the ideal on-screen feminine beauty of Hollywood and Indian popular cinema to draw out the indiscriminate abuse and violence on women. Along with accompaniments of cello, tabla and vocals, the ang abhinaya (body-centric act) subverts the perfect imagery of beauty to unveil the deep, inner turmoil of acid-attack victims.
Amina leads intergenerational workshops with people of various ages from the least engaged and disenfranchised sectors, who also constitute the subject of her works. Her first professional choreographic piece, ‘Laal Shaari’, directed by Ajaykumar was with Bangladeshi women aged over 50 years. ‘Lal Shaari’ was developed from Amina’s personal recollection of the cultural importance of the long piece of red cloth wrapped by South Asian women during weddings. The piece is a compelling tale of emotional emptiness in a woman’s life when she is denied this cloth. This project initiated the creative process of empowerment such as dance sequences in ‘Yerma’.
Amina’s progressive work within neoclassical Kathak uses intricate and detailed theatrical movements of abhinaya that comes through in the anguishing rendition of Federico Garcia Lorca’s lyrical play about a childless marriage. ‘Yerma’ is about the social torment that forces many childless women to commit irrevocable acts of violence. Originally set in rural patriarchal Spain of the nineteenth century, ‘Yerma’ is made relevant for today’s marginalised communities of Britain.
Amina also grew up with stories from her own community where, if a woman was unable to bear a child, she was considered to be deficient. She remembers many stories of marriages where the husbands escape social discrimination, and are forced to remarry to have children. ‘Yerma Moon’ resonates with this harsh reality of pro-natalism, where Amina uses the power of facial expressions, minimalism and simple cosmetics stripped of any ornaments, to bring out the bare bones of social death.
Amina made an animated digital dance theatre film ‘Catch The Bird Who Won’t Fly’ in response to the rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown from 2020. Throughout she made strong bonds with marginalised women who in turn became first-time users of mainstream arts spaces. The stories are based on real-life accounts collated in research with women’s groups.
Using WhatsApp and Zoom for another installation project, Amina and artist, Bhajan Hunjan, worked with local women to enable storytelling in the form of kanthas (traditional embroidery of tales). Some of these stories were developed to inform Kathak dance.