Interview: Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer

Tuesday 18 July 2017 by Ka Bradley

Shane Shambhu, Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer

Ka Bradley speaks to East Ham dancer and choreographer Shane Shambhu his new work Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer which mixes movement, humour and story-telling around his life experience growing up in London.

I grew up in East Ham, speaking Malayalam and English. I was a fat kid at the age of eleven. My parents thought I might lose some weight if I took up Bharatanatyam, a south Indian classical art form. That didn’t happen for a long time! But I fell in love with Bharatanatyam when I started.’

I’ve never stopped dancing. The passion has always been there, but not in the public domain. Working as an Indian traditional dancer, your options are limited. I didn’t pursue a career in dance to begin with. It wasn’t expected of me by my family. Bharatanatyam was a way of keeping in touch with my cultural roots, it wasn’t something I was expected to make a living from. Like many children from immigrant families, I was expected to strive for the best – something stable, a doctor or a lawyer.’

‘There’s a process of conflict that happens when you grow up between cultures. I don’t mean that you’re in constant conflict with yourself – there are moments of synergy too – but I’ve found the conflict arises when one side of you tells you to do one thing and the other side tells you to do another. Being a dancer professionally, is an example of that.’

‘Bharatanatyam is an emotional, rhythmic form of storytelling. It’s more than a dance form; as with many Asian art forms, it encompasses several genres holistically, including theatre, music and poetry. I wanted to tap into Bharatanatyam’s many facets and highlight them in my work.’

Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer is my third full-length piece. I made a solo that looked at cultural baggage, but it was too simple. Then I made an ensemble piece, Power Games, which was about the banking crisis. It was presented as a TV-style game show, with the audience voting on the outcome of the lead character’s story. The work’s driver was the broader political landscape, big socio-political matters that didn’t explore my own identity. I’ve been peeling away at layers to get to where I am now.Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer looks at the world from a personal perspective.

‘The piece is humorous and playful, it’s light (on the surface…). I want my audience to enjoy themselves. I don’t want to give too much away, but the show is a confession, told through many voices. I play several characters, not just myself. If I wanted to just tell the audience about myself, about my story, I could just invite them all round to my place for a cup of tea. The piece is the best way possible for me to share the confession, and for the audience to experience it.’

Race and its perceptions are strong elements in the work, of course. The fact that I’m working with a culturally specific form is a factor on my body, it’s a factor of my background. But we’re all immigrants: everyone has migrated, all over the world. Take me, I’m South Indian, which means my ancestors migrated down through the Indus from somewhere else. We have all travelled to arrive where we are, we are all the Other.

I’ve been creating work for a while, and I’ve been working with other artists and dancers. I found that I was almost forcing the movement language of Bharatanatyam onto them. They’ve come to it with different backgrounds, different cultural and emotional baggage. So I went back to the methodology of using these movements. I don’t want to impose the language of Bharatanatyam on a performer, I want to use play around Bharatanatyam techniques and vocabulary for performers to capture something with their own bodies, rather than taking their cue from specific structures, from me.’

Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer is at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on Sunday 23 July.

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