Chris Carter: Hi everybody, my name is Chris Carter. I’m the executive director for Livermore Valley Arts and we are very pleased to have here with us today; Nadhi Thekkek and Rupy C. Tut. Nadhi is the artistic director for Nava Dance Theatre and Rupy is a visual artist. They have collaborated together on a program that we’re bringing to the Bankhead Theater on Saturday, August 27th, at 3:00 p.m. We’re very excited to talk about it.
This all started, over a year ago when I received an email, I think from Nadhi, explaining a little bit about the program and what they were looking to do. I was trying to find some things new to bring to our theater and it just sounded to me like a great opportunity.
It was something that was important for us to do for our community. This performance is called Broken Seeds Still Grow and before we talk about that performance; Nadhi, could you tell me a little bit more because you said before we started that you’re also the founder of the dance company, and kind of what is your background and Rupy also, you are in arts and how you kind of came together– and a little bit about the history and the story of the dance company?
Nadhi Thekkek: Yeah. Thanks, Chris. I mean, we’re excited to be here, happy to tell you about our work and our stories with Nava. The company was founded by me and a few other dancers in 2012, so this is actually our 10th year of making work, and it really came from a place of wanting to respond to what was happening in our communities and in the world around us. Having a way to create work, that was a direct response to things that we found often to be problematic and as a Bharatanatyam dancer, the form itself, which I love, didn’t really have a space for that, for me at the time. So in 2012, a few of us decided we were going to make work together and it’s sort of been a wild journey ever since.
I think the work with Rupy, Broken Seeds Still Grow was particularly significant because it’s really when we were, I would say, more overtly responding to these issues and taking something that was a part of our history and processing it in a way for our audiences to come and really understand those stories – really be there for the emotions and actually represented who they were as a community.
I felt like this collaboration and this work was a very significant step in art making and for Nava, in really taking on real-life human stories and giving our community a way to witness it, observe it, process it, and maybe even find some sort of healing. I think I mean, that’s really why I’m so excited to bring this work back again, because, I mean, it was very significant for me in that way.
Rupy C. Tut: Yeah, I think for me, the idea of collaboration and collaborating with someone who’s from a completely different discipline was very daunting at first. But I think knowing that Nadhi and I both come from very similar backgrounds, we’re both the same methodology fanatics, and we both come from scientific backgrounds in our education. When we started to dig deep into this topic of partition–for me, which is a very personal topic, you know, of course, visual art was one way of expressing my personal history, my family history in relationship to the partition of India.
But at the same time, I felt when I would work with Nadhi on it and work with the dance company, it would let me visually see more layers of expressing those emotions of tragedy, loss, belonging and of course, so many more that we then discovered together. I believe the journey of a visual artist is very much in isolation. So for me, this was an opportunity that I could come out of that isolation and work with Nadhi, but then also get to experience that telling of a story with the dancers, with the musicians. I think in general, the background of, you know, being an immigrant kid and being someone who’s grown up in India, a lot of this history of partition of India is also experience of a lot of erasure in India.
Then also here in the U.S., where August as a month is, you know, focused on other things and they’re not really honoring the stories of the individuals who went through partition. Whereas I grew up with those stories every single night with bedtime stories that my grandparents told. So it was urgent and it was important, but also done with Nadhi, it’s been a gift to kind of experience more layers of that story.
Chris Carter: So this piece that you’ve worked on together tells the story of partition. Could you talk a little bit more about that for people who maybe not have heard the story like you just talked about and kind of explain…and I believe this is a significant anniversary as well, correct? The 75?
Nadhi Thekkek: Yeah, this is the 75th anniversary since partition, and I know we both come at partition from very different lenses, so I’ll talk about sort of my perspective and I would love for Rupy to share more about her personal connection, but for me, you know, I grew up sort of celebrating Independence Day for India and like, always dancing at a number of programs in August, and the story of partition while it was there, in the sense I knew what happened historically, we kind of know the facts, I didn’t really understand the human impact behind it and how all of those things that happened 75 years ago have seeped into our culture today and how we respond to people who are othered. How we respond to, like even how my family responds to, certain political events. It’s all been colored by what happened 75 years ago.
But, if you kind of don’t know what happened, you can’t really see all those things. I went to a Voices of Partition event by the archive, the 1947 Partition Archive, and I was struck by how so many of those stories of communal violence, othering, really riots. I mean, this is really, really scary stuff that has continued to traumatize people all these years later and we’re at a time in our country right now in the U.S. where all of that is still there or creeping up in different ways.
Many communities are being othered and it’s like seeing something that happened 75 years ago continue now in a different country. You know, it’s really, it’s such a problem like those things haven’t gone away, and I think that it was really important for me to sort of unravel that and really understand how something that could have happened–that something that happened so long ago, so far away, is still happening today, in so many different ways in our communities right now where I live. So that’s what made me want to go into it more, but the event itself partition, it created 15 million refugees and killed close to 2 million people. I mean, this is a huge one of the biggest migrations…
Rupy C. Tut: –Until recently…
Nadhi Thekkek: …Yeah, until recently, in the last century. Yeah. How come I didn’t know more about it? That’s really what started my inquiry.
Rupy C. Tut: I think when you say the story of partition, right, or is Broken Seeds a retelling of that story? And I think consciously we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a retelling of the story, that it’s not about the historical events, so, you know, chronological way of telling the story of what happened. It’s essentially the telling of the stories that didn’t make it to any textbooks, didn’t make it to any podcast, didn’t make it to even living rooms because there was a certain amount of burden and silence around them because they’re so tragic. You know, there’s loss of homes, there’s loss of family members, there’s loss of friends, there’s betrayal. There’s generally a sense of, you know, just being cheated out of a homeland. But at the same time, this affinity, this love, this longing, and this, you know, separation that’s continuously felt towards that homeland.
I mean, today, somebody asking me what my homelands are, I mean, Pakistan still comes into that because not only is the painting style I’m practicing still rooted there in many ways but there’s also this entire history of my family where no discussion, no mention of, you know, what the family history has been is ever about. When we left, what we lost, who we lost, and also what we were before that. And I think when you’re like, you know, ten-year-old kid listening to these stories, which I would actually say, you know, are very personal and tragic stories, which were–I don’t know how– told to me in such a simple way in a bedtime story. But I think looking back, you always imagined that there has to be a place where there was an existence that was more peaceful and more harmonious in general. I think now being in the U.S. and also experiencing otherness in many different layers, I mean, different ways, whether it starts with how my name is pronounced or how I worry about my kids being, you know, these little brown, brown kids.
But it’s just that when you go back to your own personal stories and you connect them to the stories of those who lived that experience or similar experiences 75 years ago, you generally think of, you know, what the fears were, what their basic human fears were for themselves and their kids. I mean, today, when I look at any exodus events happening in any geography around the world, I think of the question of what am I going to take? I think that’s a question that my grandparents were asked, and asked themselves and the kids that, you know, that they had at the time, too.
So what Nadhi has also said that these stories–and I think it’s the human reaction and human impact of these stories–are still very similar. I think that the story of partition we’re trying to tell is what is the human impact of such a tragic event, such a violent event, and how is that similar to the tragic and violent events we experience in this country, whether it’s hate crimes, whether it’s hate vandalism, whatever that is? And not having experienced it, I think firsthand–and being lucky enough to not have experienced that firsthand –we still feel that there is an advantage we have in being at this vantage point of creators where we can look at these stories and kind of, retell them in the way that they are poetic, they’re layered, they’re multi-sensory, and that they reach to anyone, regardless of what geographical point they’re at, right.
“I think that the story of partition we’re trying to tell is what is the human impact of such a tragic event, such a violent event, and how is that similar to the tragic and violent events we experience in this country, whether it’s hate crimes, whether it’s hate vandalism, whatever that is? … being at this vantage point of creators where we can look at these stories and kind of, retell them in the way that they are poetic, they’re layered, they’re multi-sensory, and that they reach to anyone, regardless of what geographical point they’re at….”
Chris Carter: Well, and there’s something about–I’ve talked about this with other artists and performers–there’s something about the arts in general. And that experience of the arts that, you know, it is we live in divisive times, right? And so you can, and we can, have a conversation and we’re not going to get anywhere. We can keep talking and keep talking, but then the arts still have the power to change people’s minds, to influence people in different ways, whether they like it or not. Like they’re moved, right, and so there’s still something wonderful about what you do and in telling those stories that maybe you couldn’t do and in a traditional way as presenting it to somebody.
And so I think that for me–when you were telling me about this is what we’re trying to do–and it spoke to me as like, okay, we can–this is something we’d like to present here because it does have that power to influence people in a different way and make people think in different ways and because you don’t just–you’re not up here, you’re feeling it in here, and you’re experiencing it in a different way. Sometimes I think that’s really important. And in some parts of the world, that’s the only way to even get your point across is through the arts, right.
Nadhi Thekkek: Well, and I think what’s been really critical for me, just as an art maker all these years, is that not only does it make you feel something, not only does it move you, you relate it back to your own family and what’s happened to you. And when we performed this piece in 2017, we had friends of ours coming in talking about how their grandparents were in the Japanese internment camps–they’re talking about World War Two. You know, and while that wasn’t our intention in, you know, say, making those pieces, yes, we’ve had influences of those stories, but you realize whether we like it or not, unfortunately, these stories of violence, of communities being othered, communities being totally separated and oppressed, it’s common across so many of our histories.
And I really think being in the same room together physically and witnessing a story like this, it not only connects you to that story that you’re watching, but it connects you to your own story and to what’s happened to you and what’s happened to your family, which when you have conversations, you realize that so many people have been affected by war, have refugees in their family.
I mean, you’re going to have a conversation with ten people in your family and you’re going to have at least a generation away from someone who’s been affected by this, so I think all the more reason to have stories like this take-up space.
“ I really think being in the same room together physically and witnessing a story like this, it not only connects you to that story that you’re watching, but it connects you to your own story and to what’s happened to you and what’s happened to your family, which when you have conversations, you realize that so many people have been affected by war, have refugees in their family.”
Chris Carter: Yeah, they need to get told too, otherwise we forget them. So tell me a little bit more, where else has this been performed?
Nadhi Thekkek: Oh my goodness.
Rupy C. Tut: Okay, I’ll start with the dates. I think in November of 2017 is where this premiered Broken Season Still Grow and it was performed for four shows in Oakland at the Flight Deck, which is no longer the Flight Deck. Yeah, it’s no longer there. And then in 2019.
Nadhi Thekkek: But we also did it in 2018… Yes, we did in 2018 and A.C.T. and 2019 and 2019 in San Francisco as well.
Rupy C. Tut: And then the CounterPulse.
Chris Carter: Something happened in 2020 that kind of caused everything to slow down.
Nadhi Thekkek: Right? I was like, What was that? Oh, yeah.
Chris Carter: But we’re trying to forget.
Nadhi Thekkek: Like the work–also from this show has been shown in so many different ways, in a different capacity.
Rupy C. Tut: Like the different acts and different pieces and I think with, you know, this is when one part, where I feel really envious of Nadhi as a dancer and all the dancers because they get to perform the acts or the pieces and they can evolve. But the artwork that’s been done cannot evolve in the same way.
However, I think we, Nadhi and I, have this… it’s interesting when we’re putting the show together–and it’s like putting the show together again almost feels like–because every time we look at the entire show order and we always change things around and switch things around.
Chris Carter: So it evolves.
Rupy C. Tut: Exactly. We always question the, you know, the emotion that we’re trying to display here and what’s the flow and what’s the experience that the audience needs to have because I think the times evolve and we have evolved as individuals. So with even this, you know, the different showings, the different multiple shows and I think over 500 people have seen this, I mean, it feels like close to a thousand maybe, even with this showing you know, it’s just very important the way that, you know, we are coming back to it now after some time having elapsed, after a pandemic, after understanding our work also differently, that even this work that has been created–whether it’s the paintings on the projections for me or the choreography for Nadhi–it’s still going to be presented in a way that’s unique to this space and that we’re really excited about.
Chris Carter: And you were telling me earlier, it’s a bigger space than it’s been in before and so you’re kind of working through that, too and seeing how you’ll address that.
Nadhi Thekkek: So there are two things–like we talk about how every showing is unique, especially with having the live music element and the way that a lot of the work– while the story is clear–there is a lot of improvisation in the way scenes are developed and the way Bharatanatyam is and the way the acting kind of happens. And there is a lot of relationship between the dancers, the production, and the musicians and so what you saw in 2017 will be unique. What you see this summer will be unique. Like we will not be able to recreate some of those moments and it’ll be happening for the first time and may never happen again. So that’s how unique those moments are. And the other thing…
Rupy C. Tut: –About the space.
Nadhi Thekkek: …The space! When we performed in the smaller intimate spaces like Rupy said, we would have to do multiple shows just to make sure we still got it to the number of people we wanted it to get to, but it did feel like as much as it was exciting to be that close and be, you know, really inside the show. I feel like people said that they were they felt like they were a part of it. We were–I feel like we were bursting at the seams in the spaces we were in–and so it really feels nice to have this opportunity. It’s sad and kind of scary that we’re doing it once and I’m like nervous about that, but it’s exciting to sort of see the potential of how–how impactful the story could be even in that kind of space. For me especially to see Rupy’s work, I mean, you know, as a dancer, I’ve been in a bunch of different kinds of spaces, but to see Rupy’s work also, like the visuals be projected on this, you know, this kind of venue, I’m really excited to see like how that impacts the story, how that projects those feelings and really affects people in the audience. So that’s going to be really exciting, I think.
Chris Carter: And you’re going to have some of your work in the lobby, too, is that right?
Rupy C. Tut: There’ll be very specific work that we, you know– so everything that was part of the show earlier that was installed in the space itself, so these panels specifically are going to be installed outside because we are not installing them in the space, on the stage itself. But I do believe that the conversation, you know, will be present in the room the minute somebody walks through the door and that was the reason for me to suggest this idea to have these panels installed and I can talk about them more, but I wanted to speak about the space.
I think with the projections and the visual art, we’ve always choreographed it in as another dancer in the show, you know, it’s just another dancer, and it’s not that it is– either is explaining each other or that there is, you know, a pointing to like, hey, I’m going to do this now and I’ll look at there. It’s not that they are different points in the story, they are individual dancers–and for me, having seen the work, you know, on a 20-foot screen earlier and then now, I don’t know how large the screen will be, but I’m guessing much larger–it’s also a kind of a nod to the tradition that I have, you know, grabbed on and practiced as an artist, which is a tradition that uses a single hair brush, you know, and that’s the single hair that has created a lot of this work. And to know that this work can be projected and that large of a scale…
Chris Carter: –From a single hair?
Rupy C. Tut: …Exactly. And I think somewhere that there is, you know–I paint because there’s poetry in life and I think there is a poetic connection here where there is a single story that has kind of you know, it was for Nadhi–it was Rupy whose family’s been through partition and let’s chat about this and let’s see what we can create–for me, I think it’s also the parallel to then, magnifying the story of that single individual and then having it be relatable to many people, but then having more stories join in. So somewhere I think the work being in the space is great for that one reason.
But then also, you know, you have two very traditional art forms still. We have we are traditionally trained artists, but we choose to also then build on the lexicon of both of our traditional artworks. We are building on it and we’re making sure that these traditional art forms are telling the story of our communities, and they’re not these dying art forms anymore because we are actively adding on to them and building them up.
I believe when you see something like this that is speaking of, you know, traditionally in theater spaces, is not you know, is not experienced–traditional art is not experienced in these larger scale events. That’s a milestone, I believe, for me, and for Nadhi as well. I also believe that when we were doing these shows earlier, when we were showing the work, for me the most thrilling part is when you hear the music and then you hear the footwork and you feel it because you’re sitting in a cozier space. And that’s one thing that I cannot wait for rehearsal time and to see how is the footwork going to translate and how is that vibration going to translate to the audience and just also, of course, how the live music will take up space. That’s something I’m looking forward to for sure now.
Chris Carter: Oh, well, I’m looking forward to it too, now that you’re telling me all about it. That’s exciting.
Rupy C. Tut: We’re teasing it. Yeah.
Chris Carter: Is there anything else that we–you want us to know about the performance?
Nadhi Thekkek: I think–the way Rupy and I operate for this–have operated for this work is, yes, we’ve done sort of our research and our conversations and our sort of personal inquiries, collective inquiries, but what has been really, I think, the key to this whole production is the cast and the collaborators that we have, whether it’s Rajan, G. S. Rajan and who created the music; the beautiful singer Sindhu; Wolfgang and Andrew, who originally created the projection; and the dancers, you know, Sruthi, Lalli–I mean, everyone is they’re not just doing a job–we’ve all generously contributed their own stories, their own reactions to what has happened to what we’re discussing. And it feels like–it feels like a real family, you know when we come together and we’ve tried to keep that all these years that when I email everyone and being like, “Hey, we’re going to do this again”, they’re like, “Yes, let’s do this again, let’s be in space together” you know, and it feels like a community work.
And yes, okay, ultimately we need to get it on the stage. We need to have–we need to execute, but I love that when we get together, it feels like everyone is contributing and everyone feels like this is–this is important to them and I don’t take that lightly, I know Ruby doesn’t. And I think we want to continue to foster that community even among the dancers, because as much as we want the audience to be impacted and we want them to feel the effect–like we want the artists also to feel that importance and value in their lives and when they perform it. So I’m glad to say that it feels like, all these years, that we’re all still really excited.
Chris Carter: Oh, good.
Nadhi Thekkek: To perform this piece.
Chris Carter: Well, it’s a shared endeavor between the artists and the creator and the audience, and we all experience it together, which makes it so special and unique. Well, I’m very excited. I’m so glad you reached out to us for this performance, it really aligns with some of the things that we, you know, seek to do for our community and we’re a non-profit cultural arts organization, and we exist to serve our community through the arts.
And that means everybody in the community, and so it’s really important for us to do that and I’m just so glad that we have the opportunity to work with you on this. So the title of the show once again is Broken Seeds Still Grow, and it’s on August 27th at 3:00 p.m. It’s a Saturday at the Bankhead Theater in downtown Livermore, and you can find tickets online at LivermoreArts.org So thank you again and I can’t wait to see the show.
Nadhi Thekkek: Thank you and thank you for answering my email.
Chris Carter: Yeah–Yeah. So people always ask, do you read all the emails you get about the things that yeah, I do, yeah.
Rupy C. Tut: And just to, for more development of the show coming up, people are welcome to check out our Instagram pages.
Chris Carter: Oh, great! Yup, let’s share that!
Rupy C. Tut: Art by Rupy and Nava Dance for Nadhi and because we’ll be sharing a lot of teasers to what’s coming up.
Chris Carter: Can you say those pages one more time? Sure.
Rupy C. Tut: Art by Rupy. That’s our R.U.P.Y. and Nava Dance N.A.V.A. Dance.
Nadhi Thekkek: S.F.
Chris Carter: All right, maybe talk about your mediums that you work in a little bit.
Rupy C. Tut: Yeah, so traditionally known in the art story and circles is known as Indian miniature painting, but which is problematic. So I can just call it traditional Indian painting, and this style that I practice, I was trained in for the last six years, seven years. The style is based on, of course, making your own pigments, all the natural materials that go into making paint and pigment.
I make the pigments myself and the paper is prepared in a very specific way. Most of the work is two-dimensional and that is kind of an ode to the paper’s nature, which is two-dimensional as well. So the work, the style in general is, and I hate to use spirit word spiritual, but it’s actually more devotional, you’re kind of devoted to this way of painting and the way of making everything. It’s definitely a style that’s rooted in the earth because you’re using mineral pigments and you’re using a lot of plant pigments.
It’s rooted in labor as well because any painting that is produced takes a long time to–it takes a while to get to the composition because you have to make the pigments and make the paper and get everything ready beforehand. I think in general, the style has been, you know, in evolution since the 18th century. However, recently for me, it’s been about making sure that it’s, you know, preserved in its way. I want to make sure I preserve it, but at the same time, to make sure that you know, the story that female-centric is told, because it tends to be a very male-centric art form and that the missing histories and the missing personal figures that don’t show up in these paintings are showing up. So those are the two main reasons I continue to continue to do it and then, you know, kind of implement change within it. Yeah, I think that’s…
Nadhi Thekkek: Yeah. And but I–the dance style that I practice is Bharatanatyam, which is known as a classical Indian dance form of India, there are, I think, eight right now. I find the word classical kind of problematic as with many of these histories and how they are described. But it is a dance form that has been passed on for generations, originally from a hereditary dance community, which has been historically disenfranchised actually in the art form, largely appropriated from them.
And this was around the same time of, of partition, actually. And I think it’s all the more reason I think to use Bharatanatyam to tell stories that have been historically erased because right now it’s being occupied by sort of a dominant community and I think it’s now more urgent than ever to sort of make sure stories that are not heard from communities that are not seen, they’re not visible, whether it’s religious minorities or, you know, similar communities that really need to be told right now using these forms. I like to use the word occupy, I mean, we need these stories to occupy these sort of dominant spaces.
Rupy C. Tut: Tell you about the brush, actually, I’m sorry, I forgot about that. So the brush is a squirrel hairbrush, which is very specific to the style and the reason is that when you put it in water, it curls and there’s a constant idea of lines. I mean the style is based on line work and the line has to continue. For that line to continue, you need the brush to be able to bend to the artist’s will or the line you can say, so that’s why the single hair that continuously lets you do this line, with this very particular brush that, sometimes tends to be banned in India, which is so odd to me because this is a style that belongs to that country. Yeah, but there is there, you know, there are very specific materials with burnishing stones and all of that and that’s where I can nerd out quite a bit, you know, for a long time.
The one thing I wanted to mention, and this doesn’t make it, it’s totally fine, but the one really important thing is, I think with these traditional styles, you think that the South Asian community is quite familiar with them, but it’s–it’s I think the amount of familiarity to these traditional styles, whether it’s a traditional painting–I know Bharatanatyam has more involvement from the community–but definitely with traditional Indian painting, these paintings and the style tend to be very, you know, antiquated and they’re kind of sent to a different era. The community itself has not experienced these as much. And so we are also kind of, you know, introducing–reintroducing–these to the community to make sure that they also see the relevance of something that was erased and diminished as craft, or as less important by colonial powers to say that, you know, it’s all right to tell–for brown people to tell their brown histories in these art forms that were meant to be created and painted and, you know, generated by brown bodies as well. So there is a reclamation of history, but there’s also a reclamation of space like Nadhi’s saying, but at the same time, the proliferation of these art forms and they’re, you know, they just need to continue to exist and I think we both take that very personally.
Nadhi Thekkek: Yeah, and I mean, like this antiquated feeling, right, sometimes you see a form like Bharatanatyam or, you know, Indian painting and you think it should belong in a certain era–like whether it’s the costumes, whether it’s the flowers, the bells–but actually it’s so relevant to today, like the tools of, for example, Bharatanatyam, like the stamping, we talked about the bells, the acting, the way we tell stories, the way we use our gestures can be used to tell the stories of now. And I think that’s important for our community to see that it’s not just a part of like history that’s defined by like colonization, you know?
Rupy C. Tut: Yeah.
Chris Carter: Well, thank you. That’s very helpful. You did a good job, you know, and I–I like to say that the like I don’t–we don’t produce art, we present it and so we’re– the theater that we operate as a vessel for the arts and it wouldn’t serve its purpose without you and what you do and so thank you for doing that and for keeping that all going.
Rupy C. Tut: So thank you. All right.
Chris Carter: Well, thanks, everybody and I think we’re going to wrap that up
So the title of the show once again is Broken Seeds Still Grow, and it’s on August 27th at 3:00 p.m. It’s a Saturday at the Bankhead Theater in downtown Livermore, and you can find tickets online at LivermoreArts.org So thank you again and I can’t wait to see the show.