WORK by BISAKHA SARKER
As the Artistic Director of Chaturangan, performer, choreographer and educationalist, Bisakha sees dance as a mechanism to bring joy and vitalise peoples’ lives. Based in Liverpool, she explores different types of dance vocabulary for and with people living with disabilities. For Bisakha, South Asian dance has a unique combination of rhythm, form, narrative and expression, to be fully explored as a continuously evolving performance heritage in the UK.
When Bisakha arrived in north-west England, she did not think dance would become her profession as the region had few social events for local dance artists. There was no strategy or pathway to enter the mainstream arts sector. Her mind was divided between the two continents, carrying the impressions of Indian artistic heritage while training in western methods of science as a statistician. She was able to synthesise both skill sets in her new environment through community socials, educational works and various national level initiatives in health and well-being.
In a multi-media artwork, ‘Do not yet Fold your Wings’, Bisakha is able to entwine her interest in scientific queries by drawing inspiration from Atul Gawande’s Reith lecture series, ‘The Future of Medicine’. Based on the poetic framework of the words of Rabindranath Tagore, she captures a ‘late style’ of dance so as to embrace the physical potentials and limits of older people. The work becomes a peaceful rendition of thoughts on fear and hope.
Bisakha’s passion for embracing the demands of an aging dancing body leads to creating artistic expressions that are uncompromising in their depth and vigour. ‘Do not yet Fold your Wings’ shows her willingness to challenge the obstacles of age and the female body through the medium of dance that is popularly associated with youth, pace and mobility. The project was a collaborative installation of visual arts, dance and music, commissioned by the bluecoat gallery as part of the Baring Foundation’s ‘late style’ series in 2014 for artists over the age of 70 years in the UK.
As Bisakha says:
‘One thing we need to do as a society is to break away from following a rigid definition of what constitutes dance. When I explore deeply I see dance as an activity to connect body and mind and a play of energy as it moves through the shapes and lines of the dancing body.’
For ‘Do not yet fold your wings’, she develops choreography in consultation with the artist Mark Brew (pictured here) to overcome physical limitations. Bisakha’s spiritual creativity is deeply inscribed in the rhythms of dance which connect with the emotions and experiences of others – an interactive process that makes learning all-encompassing and inclusive.
Bishaka’s work with Veronica Franklin Gould for people living with dementia and their care providers offered opportunities for dance experiments. ‘Dancing Moments’ – a participatory initiative developed with Akademi and Arts 4 Dementia - used dance for communication, physical fitness and the general wellbeing of people living with early stages of dementia and their carers. The project developed dance activities that were not dependent on memory, but flowed with improvisation that helped to restore individual confidence and self-esteem.
South Asian dance movements can be adapted to suit different levels of mobility and the specific needs of people living with dementia and their caregivers. The narrative element intrinsic to this style opens up many creative possibilities for the participants, ensuring that both body and mind are actively engaged.
Working with care home residents and carers in various settings across the UK, Bisakha combines different art forms and varied cultures to expand the vocabulary of dance beyond the remit of conventional dance movements. She brings the sights and sounds of nature to blend with her own sense of freedom and joy, embracing the fluid symbol of birds across cultures.
Bisakha’s ‘Dementia’ workshops deploy simple physical activities with poetic imagery, songs and readings in ‘between the lines’ of Tagore’s work. Dementia changes behavioural patterns, making people feel isolated and withdrawn. Loved ones then need to find new ways to connect with them. The workshop is specially designed to bring those watching the performance into its fold by developing interactive pieces. She found that a carefully thought simple activity of moving together can bring joy and comfort.
Bisakha’s team in Chaturangan have created multi-faith performance with contemporary artistic influence. ‘Fleeting Moments’ (Liverpool, 2015), welcomed different sections of the wider community. It included care home residents, medical centres, students, university lecturers, arts practitioners, and those with physical and mental health issues. Indian, Chinese and contemporary dance, music and poetry representing cross-cultural arts was used to lift collective spirits. ‘Traces of Wings’ is a further development of Chaturangan’s dementia and family friendly performances. Traces of Wings - Full Performance - YouTube
Bisakha believes that in the UK the wealth of South Asian dance can cater for special needs. It compels both the community of South Asian Dance artists and the leaders within the disability art sector to have a more open and fluid dialogue and vision as well as courage.