It was a visit to a refugee camp in Athens that sparked the inspiration behind Aakash Odedra’s latest project. In #JeSuis, the choreographer, who is classically trained in the Indian dance forms of kathak and bharatnatyam, delves into the crisis facing thousands of families who have made perilous journeys across the Mediterranean sea into Europe in search of safety.
The 32-year-old told Eastern Eye that recent cataclysmic events, including Brexit and the right wing media’s response to the refugee crisis, were among issues he wanted to address through his art.
The contemporary piece was performed by eight Turkish dancers from Istanbul who also face precarious futures due to the continued threat of terror attacks.
Describing the fenced Greek camp of Skaramagas, which is home to approximately 3,000 Syrian Arabs, Kurds, Iraqis and Afghans, Odedra said: “Greece is an example of how humanity can stretch its hand even though it’s in a desperate situation itself.
“Here, we are on our little island of Brexit and people are becoming more and more ignorant. I can’t sit back and watch things happen as an artist.” The father of two, who grew up in the Midlands, said he was inspired by the fact that the dancers he has worked with since 2012, had held onto their art despite experiencing a sense of desperation.
“They said, ‘we leave home in the morning, but we don’t know if we are going to make it back home.’ “The piece gives voice to this sense of suffocation we are feeling at the moment,” said Odedra. He explaine that #JeSuis’s aim was to awaken the sense of self and responsibility in individuals.
“When I went to the camps and experienced it with my own eyes, (the sense of desperation) stuck with me and instigated a change. I want people who watch #JeSuis to be part of that change. Every human life counts, the piece is almost a reflection of where society is and it gives you an opportunity to self reflect and say what am I doing?”
Odedra was mentored by Akram Khan and developed his contemporary skills after performing at Sadler’s Wells Festival curated by the acclaimed British Bangladeshi dancer. In 2011, he set up the Aakash Odedra Company, which enabled him to develop his own choreographic work and commission solos.
The dancer told Eastern Eye that he began communicating through the art form at a very young age. “At eight my dad put me into classical dance classes. It made me feel like I knew what my identity was.”
This May, Odedra will choreograph Pandit Ravi Shakar’s posthumous opera, Sukanya, at its world premiere in Leicester where up to 120 dancers will be on stage at one time. “The dancers are phenomenal and are all soloists, it’s never been (done) that all of these who are super respected in their own fields have worked together in one project,” he said.
See #JeSuis at Sampled Birmingham Hippodrome, tonight (3) and tomorrow (4).