To perform at a festival of “togetherness that is always vibrant, inclusive and entertaining and that showcases all the culture and tradition of a region,” what more could anyone want? That is what the acclaimed Balbir Singh Dance Company (BSDC) thought when they were asked to perform at Worcester Mela 2023 as part of the Worcester Show. This follows hot on the heels of the company’s world premiere of their new piece Cricket Green at the recent Bradford Festival, commissioned by Bradford Producing Hub and Bradford Council. A trip, therefore, to a city with one of cricket’s most beautifully situated and iconic venues seems extremely appropriate.
Like-minded people were determined to create “something that had never been done before in Worcester, something that celebrated South Asian culture and heritage in the city. a mela – a festival that welcomes, educates, and entertains. A free-to-all not-for-profit event, with an intergenerational ethos, strengthening the integration of all communities.”
Worcester’s diverse history
Worcester has a history of welcoming immigrants that dates to the 10th and 11th centuries when there was a significant Jewish community in the town. People from Italy, Poland and other counties have also found a home there. Not least of these are those from a southern Asian background many of whom worked in the local industries. They brought with them a strong and colourful heritage which is now being fully celebrated.
Worcester Mela Partnership secured funding from Severn Arts through the Arches Festival Project and The Arts Council to deliver arts-based projects within the city. At the height of the pandemic though it was impossible to run an outdoor festival or even meet the usual ways. This did not stop the partnership however, who instead embarked on two projects to honour where we came from. A ‘Voices’ project to mark the stories of the original settlers that first came to Worcester, and an Art Installation at the Worcester Royal Hospital to mark the disproportionate amount of the South Asian community affected by Covid. In some ways the story of Mela is closely linked to the Covid pandemic.
The Balbir Singh Dance Company
It is against this background that BSDC are performing at this year’s mela. The company was founded in 1998 by artistic director Balbir Singh, BSDC and has grown to be a leading dance company that specialises in blending contemporary western dance and classical Indian Kathak. Based in Leeds, the company regularly works with the best artists and musicians and presents work to diverse audiences in the UK and internationally. Under Balbir’s artistic leadership, the company stands at the forefront of intercultural dance practice in the UK.
The company has dance at its heart, drawing on diverse influences to create work that can be pure dance, cross-art-forms collaborations as well as non-arts innovative partnerships. The work is always intercultural – offering a holistic dance experience for audiences. Their vision is to increase their reputation for innovative performances and collaborations and to grow a diverse audience for contemporary and classical Indian dance.
They are especially proud of their long-standing commitment to educational work, both in schools and community settings. Over recent years the company has supported many children to achieve their Arts Award. Central to BSDC’s approach is a belief in culturally diverse learning and participation. The company is well known for delivering innovative programmes that inspire, encouraging individuals, groups, and communities to engage further with the arts and leaving a lasting impression on all participants.
BSDC is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) and performs around the UK and internationally.
The dance company is performing three pieces at the mela: Excerpts from Cricket Green, Love and Spice and new work Tea Leaves.
Cricket Green combines music, theatre, contemporary western and traditional Indian dance as it addresses the issues facing not just cricket but the world in general because of climate change. It is ultimately a celebratory piece about a sport that links many of the countries in southern Asia and over 50 more worldwide.
Love and Spice is a vastly different piece of work. An elderly couple, still very much in love, look back on their lives together, reliving key moments through memories of the meals they shared. As the couple reminisce, their younger selves appear, and enact the memories of times past. The atmosphere is suffused with the aromas of a richly spiced life. With the couple’s advancing age, each has lost one of their senses: he the sense of smell, she the sense of taste. Can spices – black pepper and cardamom, the king and queen of spices – help them recapture what has been lost? Annapoorna, the goddess of food and nourishment, summons the butter thief Krishna and the sweet-toothed elephant-headed god Ganesh to help her cook a special meal in the kitchen. Together they will try to bring back the couple’s lost senses, but what else will be rekindled along the way?
The third in the trio of performances is Tea Leaves, a beautiful rich experience as the dancers recreate the journey of tea leaves from plant to cup. It’s a refreshing masala mix of spicy tea tales from around the world.
A new relationship
Artistic Director, Balbir Singh is thrilled to be working with Worcester Mela. Speaking to me at the world premiere of Cricket Green he said:
“We are delighted to be presenting at Worcester Mela as part of kickstarting a new relationship developing a project capturing stories and narratives of the history of Worcester in new and creative ways.”
Worcester Mela promises to live up to its ambitions and more. It really does sound like an extravaganza of arts and craft, henna, fashion, music, dance, Indian cuisine and a range of activities to immerse yourselves in. It takes place this coming Sunday at Pitchcroft – Worcester Racecourse, Grandstand Road, Worcester, WR1 3EJ between 10.00am and 5.00pm.
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