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PuSh Play Episode 10: Rakesh Sukesh speaks about because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it)

Rakesh Sukesh by Panorama Dance Theater
Choreographer, dancer, and storyteller Rakesh Sukesh. Photo by Panorama Dance Theater.

This year, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival has launched a series of podcasts in advance of this year’s events, which run from January 18 to February 4. Below, you can read a transcript of PuSh fest director of programming Gabrielle Martin’s interview with Rakesh Sukesh, the Kerala-born choreographer of because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it), which he will perform at Performance Works on Granville Island from January 22 to 24.

Gabrielle: Hello and welcome to PuSh Play, a Push Festival podcast featuring conversations with artists who are pushing boundaries and playing with form. I’m Gabrielle Martin, PuSh’s Director of programming. And today’s episode highlights the philosophy of moving and creating through chaos. I’m speaking with Rakesh Sukesh, choreographer and performer of because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it) a PuSh festival commission which will be presented at PuSh Festival January 22nd to 24th 2024. In because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it) Rakesh embodies the chaos of an unjust society, finding humour in the confusions and contradictions. Born in Kerala, India, Dance unexpectedly entered Rakesh’s life at the age of 15, when he began as a Bollywood dancer in local productions. Since then, Rakesh has created numerous dance works and dedicated himself to researching a movement method known as Intact Method, a practical fusion of Kalari Pieta, contemporary movement and Yogic philosophy. I’m honoured to share a discussion that looks at the collaboration and exploration of form behind because I love the diversity. Here’s my conversation with Rakesh.

Gabrielle: Hi Rakesh. Welcome. Thank you for taking this time to chat with me a bit about your process and the project, because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it)

Rakesh: My pleasure to be here, definitely. Definitely pleasure to talk about it.

Gabrielle: Thank you. And I just want to start out by acknowledging that I am speaking with you from the unceded stolen ancestral and traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh).It’s an absolute privilege for me to be here, for me to be working here, for PuSh to be doing its work here. Would you mind just letting us know where you’re speaking to me from?

Rakesh: Yeah. Right now I live in Belgium. Since last five years. And Brussels has been my base. And it’s a great place to be as an artist and, and as a as a foreign artist it’s, it’s a very welcoming community and, and it’s a great place to develop yourself and, and share your work. And that’s where I am now, right now.

Gabrielle: You are an established international performer, sought after educator. And because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it) is your first solo, evening length choreographic work, and I’m curious what compelled you to undertake this project at this point in your career, and how your practice up until this point shows itself in the content of the piece?

Rakesh: First of all, about this being my first full length solo performance, I have done a short a piece with me a long, long time ago, and I remember kind of struggling through the process because it’s quite a lonely, depressing journey when you go into a studio. And I told myself, “No, I’m going to step out of this and I rather prefer to collaborate with the artist or create on somebody else.”

But considering what this topic of the piece talks about, which is the aggressions and microaggressions per se, which is the racism and expectation of society and, and where I come from and where I am now. And over the years, it’s kind of a baggage that you start to carry on you. And then it came to a point where there was intense threshold to to to put it out there into into the space. And one of the…

I mean, my work, my teaching is is inspired by my culture a lot and which is there and in my culture and anywhere you go, we always speak in a holistic way. We never really separate body or ideology or or a space that you live in time, your live in memory that you have it somehow. We embrace everything all the time. And that’s all in my in my teaching.

Well, what I propose is it’s kind of an interconnected practice where I’m a dance teacher, I’m a movement pedagogue, but I’m drawing and through movement how we can research and understand or express our different aspects of ourselves. And so by saying so, I realized that the fact that I carry all this information—or another synonym is karma Indian, maybe call it—which is that the baggage that we have and how, how it’s defined me right now in this, in this moment, which is that the experience that we gathered and what do you do in the moment governs what’s going to be for yourself within you and also the environment you live in.

So kind of having these experiences in my personal life and the questions and, and wanting to understand these questions through a research, which is my practice also, and, and trying to go through a journey and to see what I find in that journey and, and eventually to see how I can convert that those experiences into a piece of art. And this is what we research in my practice, how to convert things into a piece of art. And that could be coming from something physical and mental, emotional and psychological. And so the kind of my practice is became my my source of healing, let’s say, and source of discovery, a source of expression, way of expression. So so then I said, okay, after 12 years, it’s time to do a solo again. It’s time to tell a story again. So that’s how I start this process.

Gabrielle: So you’re working with award winning Canadian playwright Marcus Youssef for this project, and can you talk about that collaboration, the decision to work with text, how the text has been developed, how the collaboration has influenced your practice?

Rakesh: Well, I have I have not met Marcus in person up till until very recently. The beginning I got introduced by you PuSh Festival and by the moment I saw his body of work. And intuitively felt like, I feel like there is something about this artist and, and I like the way he he how he approaches topic and how he identifies the topic within him and, and, and analyzing and arguing that the the topic or thematic within himself. And I like this approach of you take something and then you find yourself with that idea and trying to yeah to to understand what is this idea means and how you see that out. And I like this approach of him.

And so yeah, we, we matched and we somehow we said yeah, we like each other, you know, online. And we started the process in the beginning. I have no idea. I just had this vision of creating this piece that I just don’t wanted it to be a dance piece. I wanted it to have kind of a aesthetic of kind of a lecture performance, dance, storytelling, and kind of like a collusion of all this different world to me together. So when I spoke to him about it in the in the initial days, we just he just asked me questions and he asked me to speak about my experiences. So I spoke about, you know, certain racist issues that I’ve confronted and being in Europe and dealing with different kind of aggression in the art world and expectation from the art world and you me being from India. What do you expect of and how much is expected of?

They say that like, “Oh, we are very open for diversity. Please come and share your information.” But up to a certain point, not more than that. And but share any information to be like this is not the way that you that you would share it in India. So there’s a lot of like a different kind of tonality to kind of life that I’m navigating. So, I start to speak a lot of experiences and, and also referring to other stories, other people’s stories. And that’s what I do very often when I go to create a space, I try to pull references of other books or events or stuff.

I was amused and challenged by Marcus… he directed the entire research on me, putting me as the protagonist and, and going through these stories that to me, I spoke and creating this character, which is Rakesh, who was an artist became fascinated about being in the Western world, navigating his life as an artist and at the same time, outside in the real world, in Western world, things are very different than how experiencing in the art world and also art world itself how absurd sometimes you are, you are called upon to a certain places to share your practice and sometimes for the same reason you’re not welcomed. And so it’s kind of like creating a storyline of this, this artist Rakesh Sukesh and going through this, this arc of his life episodes of his life and also his inner, you know, questions and problems that is confronted and also reflecting on his own culture. He comes from, okay, I am I’m in this world and navigating with all these different problems.

I would like to go back to my country, but my country has also has problem. It preaches yoga, it preaches. We are very old culture and great, but we also have problem of caste issues and difference between male and female and arranged marriage and how how you are measured in the society. The darker you are and the value of yourself goes down. And, and meanwhile, it also talks about yoga and spiritualities. And so so this character kind of kind of gets stuck between this world and the trying to figure out these problems. And, and so hence, like all the stories that I was saying became the text of the piece. I don’t want to say more about it because I also want people to experience the piece. So I will just stop at that.

Rakesh Sukesh PuSh Fest
Rakesh Sukesh addresses the roots of xenophobia in his show, entitled because I love the diversity. Photo by Irene Occhiato with artwork by Irene Narys.

Gabrielle: As a choreographer, when you’re creating a work and you’re creating the dramaturgy and the the kind of codes through which you convey the intention behind the work, that can be quite different than when you’re working with a text. And it’s the there’s this narrative dramaturgy. And often that that process of meaning making or where the focus goes can be different. Have you found it to be really pretty organic? Has it been? Yeah. I’m just curious if there’s anything more to say about that.

Rakesh: That’s the exciting part for me in this process is that the development of this piece became very natural for me. And it’s because I have Marcus who’s creating this fantastic dramaturgy in the text wise. And also I have another collaborator, Alessia Luna Wyes, who’s, who’s Italian, who’s based now in Belgium, and she’s focusing on more from movement, dramaturgy, and aesthetic from a dance point of view and the fact that the piece focused on me, the character, and hence me wanting to say the story verbally and also the physicality that I have.

And also we are questioning me being this Indian artist, creating a piece in the Western world for the Western public. How is it being perceived? Or when I do a certain movement, let’s say if I say a story and I’m doing a movement. Moving and dancing with that story. Immediately there’s a judgment from the audience saying like, this story this way we’re not sure and or yes, we like it because it has something exotic, but this one we’re not sure. Maybe it’s a bit too much. So kind of like taking that into the piece that that into the dramaturgy like, oh, that’s the problem we’re talking about.

And so hence the whole, the whole journey of the development became very organic, I would say. I don’t think I found very difficult to define the, the, the synergy between the body dance and the text. And also it goes back again to my my practice in the room where I am teaching. I’m sharing verbally, while I’m also able to express that physically, somehow. So we use that as the essence as part of the whole development of the project.

Gabrielle: Yes, I remember. I remember that from having taken a workshop with you, which was incredible, which was also my introduction to you and your work and the storytelling that was part of your teaching practice and that was so compelling and just as inspiring as your physical demonstration of movement propositions. I want to talk a bit more about your teaching practice. You’ve developed the Enact Method, moving through chaos, and can you describe this method which you’ve spoken about a bit, but also the process of its development and the relationship between moving through chaos and because I love. Is there a relationship? And if yes, what is it?

Rakesh: Yeah, I would say yes. There is a relationship to give a kind of back story of my research. This is a practice that I propose. I call it modern research. Before I would say I would teach this technique. But now it became a more research space. And before when I was teaching, I was teaching very clear methods that come from my culture. I was teaching a martial art form which is called Kalaripayattu and using the, the physical preparation that they do in this martial art and which has a lot of inspiration from animals and how to use the human somatics in that in an organic and a healthy way where we can keep exploring the boundaries and, and what to our city of the physicality. Because in martial art it’s about efficiency. You are able you should train yourself to deal with an intense environment while you being calm to understand the environment.

So and I was using that as a as a starting point and I was teaching it. And meanwhile, I am very much inclined to yogic principles because it’s also my family’s kind of loosely there are busy with it. Also my parents are, you know, they’re very much into yoga and philosophy and stuff. So I grew up in that. Of course, as a as a child, as a teenager, I was not really caring for it. You know, my fascination was to come to the into the Western world. And I arrived. And then I reflect on my own culture and the ancient discoveries. And then you look at the modern science and neuroscience and, and they all talk about how the human development, where is the human development. And somehow it’s all kind of like, call me back to the whole yoga principles, the practice that you have developed.

Marriage is about the human enhancement eventually. And so I start to, you know, start going more deeper into that. And I do teach this training. And for myself, I don’t want to become a yoga teacher, but rather going to an intense process to understand it and but draw all principles and philosophies from yoga and put that into mind is this research that I have been doing. And in India we have this usually in ancient time before we had the Western education system. And normally you study under a teacher for 12 years. And that method is called Gurukula system where you’re studying at teacher’s house for 12 years. And after 12 years, ideally, you’re done with their education. And then you go and live with that information that your teacher gave and you see what life teaches you with that with that information.

So, the previous practice that I was teaching after 12 years, I said, okay, I need to change it. I need to reset into something new. And then I start calling an intact method, which is that to to keep an idea together or if something is wrong, you fix it. It’s kind of a synonym. And also arriving it was also the time of Covid and worst time of all the different problems in my life was I was going through. Then I realized this. Well, there’s so much chaos that we we are facing in life, right.

Then for me, the focus become right now the chapter that I do is breath power of breath. And for me I realize breath is a it’s like the inner root. Of ourselves. It’s like the tree. So the deeper, the calmer, or the proper you breathe, the more resilient you become. And so bringing the power of breath and dealing with the different natures of us body, mind, spirit, spirit, whatever the environment and past and future. And how do you navigate all those different aspects? By keeping the breath as the core.

So hence, like now it become a more research practice. When I’m proposing tools for the practitioners and everybody takes the tool and they are all working together in the studio. Of course, the tool provokes different experience in each and everybody, so I cannot access that experience to say, This is what I’m teaching you. You can only find it for yourself. So hence it became more a research research process right now. And again, that also reflects into my piece, which is my experience, my my stories, which I’m trying to convert that into a piece of art. And this is what I do, both in my class and in my performance.

Gabrielle: You’re working on a lot of levels. Clearly, you know, with your the philosophy you’re bringing to your teaching, to your what is becoming, you know, methodology for research, the development of your creative projects. And you’re also the director of the Sanskar Festival. And so this festival in this festival, you’re facilitating international creative exchange between Indian and international contemporary dance artists. And because I love is also an international collaboration and has had its own obstacles and setbacks due to your Indian passport and the inequities of movement. Can you talk about the context you’re creating within and the relationship with Sanskar and your work with Sanskar?

Rakesh: I found a great growth in my the fact that I’m travelling and I’m now living in outside my homeland and because you put yourself in an unknown space and you are, you are discovering yourself, right? And meanwhile you’re meeting these amazing artists and there’s so much they inspired you and, and you, you develop yourself and you find yourself and you being an interesting projects.

So when I look back now, if I did not travel from India, I don’t know who I would have been and what I would have been developed into, right? At the same time, it was not an easy process. It’s it’s really a difficult journey, me coming from with an Indian passport, trying to be in the Western world. It’s it’s really not… It’s it’s very difficult. And one has to have like a very wealthy family who can really support you to do that or you have to really go through a very difficult process. And in my case, my family was not really wealthy. So my my journey was a bit of like ups and downs and turns and twists.

What was fascinating is that when I started to travel, of course, you know, to give an example, when I’m in India, I’m watching certain companies in Europe, which are considered to be the very advanced in in the contemporary dance, right? Like, you know, Pina Bausch and Ultima Vez. And you’re like, wow, you want to do that one day? That’s that’s your dream. And of course, what you have in India is classical arts, folk art, and then you have Bollywood and contemporary art, physical art is it’s very. Is it? I could not find it. Even now, you cannot really find it clearly.

So, we are always striving behind a community that is already ahead of you, right? So, you already copying them, trying to become that thinking ‘That’s contemporary dance. We got to roll on the floor. We got to create an amazing scenography and like them like that in order for you to call yourself a contemporary dancer.’ And for me, over the years, I realized I become [a] more Indian dancer.

Me being in Europe, you know, I kind of got more and more fascinated by my own artistry. Of course I roll on the floor, I do jumps, and I do create work. But I found it like, Wow, there is so much richness in my culture. But this journey brought me the awareness, how to investigate that, to make it contemporary. And that’s what I am doing personally.

Of course, I meet a lot of young artists from India. They write me emails, their messages saying like, Oh, how can I be in Europe? How can I… How can I study? How can I grow? How can I? So they they asked me and, and of course it’s not cheap and it’s not easy. And so then we realize that, okay, we need to do something in India. And meanwhile, you know, talking about, let’s say, yoga, let’s… to give an example.

I come to Western world and, and I see people and I respect that very much and that, you know, people go and they do teacher training and yoga and they come on a yoga teacher and, oh, you I do this kind of yoga, I do that kind of yoga. And then you look at your own culture and what is meant for what is it been for for thousands of years being twisted and turned and created and brands and varieties of yoga. And that goes also in dance, right? Like people go study a little bit of Kathak for three months and they come, they create like, oh, this is Kathak.

Gabrielle: Mm-hmm.

Rakesh: And this is what I’m doing. And like it’s interesting. I see there is a there is an interest in the community here to go to different cultures, to look into their information, to get inspired and, and use it for whatever intent they have to create art or to perceive life through that. And the same thing goes the other way around from India. People want to go and experience and be, you know, be in the mind of Western community.

So you realize, okay, let’s, let’s create this project called Sanskar. And then the word Sanskar means creating imprint and an imprint like memory for future. So you realize that like what, how, what kind of environment that we can create that there is… There is an impact that happens from people from very diverse community that they are getting inspired by each other, learning from great masters, from India, from abroad and how it can help them towards future. And while coexisting together without boundaries and also learning from each other.

So that’s kind of like the philosophy of Sanskar. In a way, that’s what happens in, in in my personal life with this whole difficulty of travelling and trying to fit in to being the best in the world. And so we realize that’s not easy for young artists in India to do it. Then we created Sanskar and we do it in, in, in real space in India. And also we created kind of a virtual platform to address not just Indian artists, but creating space for people from different parts of the world.

Gabrielle: Thank you. Clearly there’s so much potential in the transmission of knowledge and exchange of practice that can transpire with international collaboration. And yeah, these moments of these touchpoints and opportunities for collaboration. And your project is one example. And at the same time, often there’s a commodification that happens or an idealization or an exotification or just a lack of care around that whole process. So it’s really interesting to hear about how in so many ways your own personal journey, you’re translating that to to facilitate something more for others.

Rakesh: And also, it’s I mean, I’m the co-creator of Sanskar. There’s another my collaborator called Narendra Patil. So it’s like the border region. And he’s going through the same process, like he’s trying to find himself in the open and create a life while we are resonating to the same issues. And, and hence we created this platform. Yeah. Because for us, it’s like what we had first.

If we look at, let’s say any space with with high creativity, let’s say a tech company, or or NASA, it’s a very diverse community working together. Right. You have Indians, you have Asians, you have people from around the world putting their creative mind and creating that, that, that great product. So somehow, like how he can create a space from artist that can bring what they have this amazing knowledge they all have in a space, throw it into one ball and to see what it’s going to become like, who’s getting inspired by what? And at the same time, everybody knows the source of it. It comes from, meanwhile, so, yes, you are fascinated by Kathak. But listen to a traditional Kathak teacher here, how they studied, how they value knowledge.

Yes, you are fascinated by as you become a great choreographer in Europe. Understand the research that you need to put inside and, and what are the process you have to go through. So it’s like creating a platform and also giving a perspective towards what it takes for one to achieve something. So, so yeah, we’re interested in this idea of creating a space of innovation by bringing in different things at the same place. And it’s up to the participants to decide how they judge it, how they what they take out of it, how they carry forward.

Gabrielle: Similar to the audience’s experience in your work.

Rakesh: I’m curious. I’m curious how it’s going to be.

Gabrielle: I’m so appreciative of your generosity today and sharing more about your practice. It’s clear the generosity you have as a teacher. I got to experience that and as someone just in conversation and then with these initiatives that you are co-directing, directing, that generosity is very clear and, and the generosity to kind of… To pull from your own life experience and put that on the stage. So I’m really just so thrilled that this work will be part of the 2024 PuSh festival. I’m really looking forward to the performances January 22nd to 24th and that these will be also presented with Indian Summer Festival and The Cultch. So we’re just thrilled to be able to host you and knowing the journey it’s been to get to this place after we had such excitement to host the work in the 2023 festival. And then we’re not able to do that because of the because of the inequities in the world around movement and the fact that you weren’t able to receive a visa until and for quite a while after your application. So thank you for your patience as well and going through all of that and, and still being on board. To come to PuSh and premiere the work.

Rakesh: Well, first of all, I am humbled and thank you for this time and all this opportunity and help PuSh gave and also gave… You, you have supporting this project from all along. I mean, I sometimes wonder if this support did not come through. I don’t know if I would have had the resources to pull a show like this and also able to bring in fantastic artists like Marcus and Alessia and the others into the project. So your support as being one of the important for this project. These difficulties it’s not the first time I have been through this, you know, this kind of difficulties in the past. The only thing that I my mantra is to it to persist, you stay on and something will unfold. And, and so yeah, when it fell apart last year, I’m like, okay you go through your whatever the after effect of the news, but stick to the project and let’s see when we arrive. So now it’s going to be there in January. I’m really excited to be there and I cannot wait to share it and I’m just excited. I cannot wait.

Ben: That was Gabrielle Martin’s conversation with Rakesh Sukesh, choreographer and performer of because i love the diversity (this micro-attitude, we all have it), which is being presented at the upcoming PuSh Festival. My name is Ben Charland and I’m one of the producers of this podcast, along with Tricia Knowles. PuSh Play is supported by our community Outreach Coordinator, Julian Legere. Original Music from Joseph Hirabayashi. New episodes of this podcast are released every Monday and Thursday. And for more information on PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, visit pushfestival.ca and follow us on social media @PuShFestival. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please spread the word. And on the next PuSh Play.

For more information on the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, visit the website.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.