SUNYA

Cultural migration is at the heart of this exquisite dance and music work by Indo-Armenian dancer/ choreographer, Roger Sinha, and Iranian-born musician/composer, Kiya Tabassian. Bearing strong roots to their heritage, yet deeply influenced by North American and Quebec cultures, these two remarkable artists and their superb cast of dancers and musicians have crafted a universal quest for identity that resonates with spirited joy. Recently AE spoke with Sinha about the show, which begins tonight at the Sir James Dun Theatre in Halifax.

When and why did you first become interested in dance?
I am a child of the seventies and would go out sometime 4 night a week disco dancing, honestly I guess there, but professional dancing, I was so impressed by the films in the early 80’s All That Jazz and the Chorus Line, at first I wanted to be a jazz dancer

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
Not at all, I went from jazz to ballet then to modern, today I am in dance because I want to create, I think if I did not have the passion and desire to create to choreograph I would have stopped in my late 30’s

What are the challenges of the vocation?
Trying to get enough performances. This is a good year for me and I have around 15 shows. That is not enough. we are in a very competitive business and contemporary dance does not have the popular appeal that other dance form have so you work months and months on a project then maybe do it 10 times and then that is it

What are the rewards?
To live your life every day creatively and to be around people that are passionate and devoted, my life focused not on making money but art

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational’?
Both, I need to be inspired to create a dance piece. The inspiration comes with every bit of preparation, each day you work in a creative process you get inspired and then create something new or different. It is not always the case. When a work has been created and you are remounting it, one does not change things too much, so really it is repetition, repetition repetition, it is not the best part for me of the business, but then it leads to the show which is always a thrill.

How has your work evolved over the years?
significantly, I rely a great deal on my dancers to create the material for me. Not all of it and I do give them a direction to go in. 10 years ago it would be all about my movement and my ideas, now I like it when my dancers are able to share their ideas with me. I am also using a lot more technology in my work

What inspired Sunya?
Kiya Tabassian, I heard his music and that is what inspired me to create Sunya, we speak different languages but our art makes us understand each other, Kiya has little interest in uniquely exploring Iranian music and I myself do not feel that only classical Indian dance is the way I want to express myself, especially since I have not spent many years studying it. I borrow from it, unlike Kiya who grew up with his Persian background and the music that accompanied it. I knew about my Indian culture later in life and after I became a contemporary dance choreographer  I decided to explore those roots. What is unique about both Kiya and I is that we lived the immigrant experience so the piece takes us on a voyage across oceans and skies to this culture - Canadian, North American - where we take from our cultural heritage yet explore it in a very contemporary modern even I would say urban way.

What can audiences expect to experience?
The poetry of our words and movement and music. Don’t expect to see a story there is none. We express more the abstract than anything. The public will be awash with images supported by our visual designer Jerome Delapierre who will take images that we associate with the east, Persian calligraphy for example and bend it and manipulate to reshape it into the world Kiya and I are exploring which blends east and west. There are moments of beauty and softness but there are also moments which are edgy and disturbing. The immigrant experience is not always kind.

What has the response been like so far to the production?
Very positive, those particularly who have a sense of the east having visited or been born there will find associations with the work. There is a lot of technology in the work with projections and interactive visual images where the movements of the dancers call up shifts in the projections. But the usual response is that they don’t notice it the technology. That means we have achieved what we wanted, we wanted new media in the work but not so that it overwhelms the public.
What are your thoughts on the current state of dance?
I won’t go into the lack of funding and support because it is an old though relevant story. It has greatly changed and what concerns me is the packaging of dance into comfortable 1 hour formats to be marketed. It is detrimental to the art. It’s what producers want so they can sell the work. Not all dance works merit the 1 hour format and many dance works are much longer than they should be because choreographers want to satisfy the needs of the producer who do not want to sell 3 or 4 different works in one evening, even by the same choreographer. I was lucky with Sunya it is a good 1 hour of dance. But it is not always in me to present something of that length, I would like to do 15 minute or even 10 minute short works that say it all in that time and have a punch to it, but they are harder to sell.

What can we be doing better?
Trust the artist, trust the public to like what they see, don’t try and label and package the art. I was labeled as a contemporary Indian choreographer. It is not always what I do. I dance tango and I want to work on a contemporary tango piece but, funders and producers might get nervous about that because it is not my ‘brand’ and there is concern that I am not on my authentic path. It is my path let me decide and let me fail but give me that freedom.

What's next on your creative agenda?
As I said I don’t always want to do 1 hour works, I want to do shorter works, I actually am toying with the idea of doing tweetography, short 20 to 30 sec pieces that will be broadcast on social media.

SUNYA
January 15-18, 8pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Halifax