“The Heritage of the People”: The Contextual Framework

Credit: Simon Balson

Lok Virsa: Without Borders - Sonia Sabri Company 

As part of Alchemy Festival 2012
Photo Credit: Simon Balson 

Following Sonia Sabri Company's recent performance at Alchemy, Shezad Khalil gets to the heart of the matter by contextualising the work and speaking to its creator and curator, Sonia Sabri.  

Sowing the Seeds

Lok Virsa was both a dance and musical based composition that began to transpire while the Artistic Director of Sonia Sabri Company, Sonia Sabri, was sowing the seeds of one of her former compositions: Kathakbox in 2011.  As she and company Musical Director, Sarvar Sabri, began to explore the notion of the “tick-box” culture, what also became apparent was how different artistic disciplines derive from specific, and almost “fixed”, codified cultures.  In addition, these particular systems of expression seemed to be connected, and often limited to, certain communities whilst other groups remained on the "outside"; either unaware of the movement or musical vernaculars and/or did not have the “insider’s knowledge” of these vocabularies.  As a result, Sonia became interested in how these various dance systems could communicate a dialogue to the twenty-first century spectator “inside” the space of Britain. 

Hidden Depths and History
Through Lok Virsa, Sonia wanted to address the rich history that comes with Pakistani folk dance, music and poetry.  For example, often, when speaking of South Asian dance, the postmodern world is presented with classical dance forms such as kathak and bharatanatyam but, when one delves into the history of these forms, it becomes apparent that they have folkloric roots, that is persons as nomadic bards or storytellers would frequently travel from village to village, earning a living from enacting the religious and non-religious narratives through dance and music. It was only through the intervention of the Mughals and Rajputs that kathak was given its prestigious status and, in 1952, was recognised as a classical art form and a symbol of the Mother nation, India.  Through Lok Virsa, Sonia wanted to “look at what came before the classical”, before the reign of the Mughals and before the modern-day borders between India and Pakistan.  “Dance and music have always been an important part of the cultures of the Indian subcontinent”, she explains, “they have always existed. This is something that we cannot deny, ignore or even eradicate.” 
Despite their political disputes, the roots of Pakistan and India remain the same, in terms of the landscape, the cultures, language systems, verbal and non-verbal gestures as well as their artistic values and practices. It is these existing symbols of the past and present that have been transported by the postmodern migrant into the many spaces of the world.   Lok Virsa is then a celebration of South Asia; its arts heritage, and its past and present.   

Turning the Negative into a Positive
The media has played a critical role in conveying an often narrow-minded perspective of people from particular ethnic groups. Sonia explains that: “this form of negativity has caused a lot of concern for us as artists”. With this in mind, Sonia “wanted to put positivity back” into the contemporary world and, through Lok Virsa , she was able to do so - by exemplifying dance, music and poetry as intrinsic elements of South Asian culture.