Q: What's the thoughts behind Mango Cherry Mix? Why have you described it as an interracial duet ..... in the presence of a 'familiar' other?

Navtej: I’ve made many collaborative works with Western dancers and choreographers, but there is always a certain distance, an unfamiliarity in which a part of my Indian-ness remains unarticulated. For instance I’ve never been able to incorporate abhinaya into my contemporary work because it is not part of the contemporary medium. So I wanted to make a work with someone who was a non-Indian but an Easterner, who would be different yet fully understand and appreciate the Eastern sensibility. I am very interested in how the "internal" is brought out in performance. So Mango Cherry Mix is about dealing with our inner experiences that are very deeply culturally influenced, and bring them out through an unconventional performance with the support of and in front of a sympathetic other. In essence this work has been about "seeing" the other free of any cultural judgments, neither exoticizing the other nor being discomforted by their culturally-specific internal processes. Q: How can dance explore the spiritual possibilities of 'shunya' or a Zend experience?Navtej: Well first of all the dancers have to believe in that experience. I am deeply interested in it and when I saw Hiroshi perform in Birmingham a couple of years ago, I could see that he too was coming from that very "Zen" place. So, if the individual has that experience within him or her then it just needs a very safe space to come out. And Mango Cherry Mix was just that, it was about creating a very trusting, non-judgmental space where one could just "Be," both individually and culturally, without feeling unselfconscious. Self-consciousness being the biggest deterrent to the experience of emptying out! Q: How have Bharatanatyam & Japanese dance contributed to the production? What method did you adapt to compose it?Navtej: Apart from sound training in contemporary dance, Hiroshi also learns a classical Japanese form called Nihon Buyo as well as Bharatanatyam. And as you know, my main form is Bharatanatyam but I also have worked in several contemporary works and also include yoga in my work. The attempt in this piece was to pull out the quiet essence of these Eastern forms, it was not so much about the form or the technique but what we considered the essential experience of these forms which comes out in the quiet soulfulness of a padam for instance. In fact, the underlying focus of this production was to bring forth this experience that we both cherish deeply and which we have imbibed through our own traditional forms, and which can get so easily glossed over or even intimidated because it is very subtle, quiet and internal. Q: This is essentially a contemporary, abstract, international dance. Why have you based portions on a thumri or a padam or even incorporated Kathak? Navtej: To me abhinaya is the most beautiful aspect of Indian dance, I often say it is "India’s gift to the world," but contemporary dance is viewed as being blank, where the face does not dance. And I am not comfortable with that. On the other hand I am also as uncomfortable with self-conscious, hyper-articulated saccharine abhinaya that is often presented in the classical format. For me abhinaya comes from a very real place in the heart and also historically. It is as much a part of this world as it is of that world, i.e. it is spiritual, but it can also be carnal and even mercenary. God, king, patron, money, seduction, ingratiation, beauty are all wedded into it in a rather layered and complex fashion. So, in Mango Cherry Mix, I tried to open a space for abhinaya free from the umbrella of classicism, yet vital, interactive and real.

In fact, a part of me feels that abhinaya is only possible in these kinds of settings, because classicism is too loaded with notions of purity and heritage which can become oppressive and the performer cannot escape that self-conscious mode. Therefore, I included the padam and the thumri! And I brought in shades of Kathak, because I am a North Indian and I have a much clearer idea of dance in the courts or even kothas. It is easier for me to establish dance as an interactive, seductive engagement with the patron through shades of the salami and the mujra, therefore Kathak!