Socially distanced rehearsals and last minute preparations are underway in Kala Sangam in Bradford for Balbir Singh Dance Company’s latest production The Wise Ones which opens this weekend. The show is in turns tender and striking, asking serious questions in a playful way. The show is about wisdom, how we acquire it and how we pass it on and involves dancers of all ages.
The Wise Ones celebrates the powerful gifts of our older people and explores the forces that have shaped them. It is a work about ageing and the acquisition of wisdom that unites a live music score with contemporary Western and classical Indian dance.
Bradford’s Balbir Singh, artistic director
It’s been four years since artistic director and Bradfordian Balbir Singh has created work in Bradford, and he is relishing every moment. Balbir was born in India but moved to Bradford as a child as his dad came to work in the mills. Balbir owes much to the city for shaping his sensibility and helping him in his choice of career. His introduction to Indian dance would not have happened without the help of Bradford-based Unniti South Asian Dance:
“I’ve had lots of helpful breaks in Bradford. Although when my mum first took me to Kathak dance classes as a child, I ran away!”Balbir Singh
For his latest work, Balbir has gathered world-class performers from London, Liverpool and Yorkshire to work with the company in Bradford. The wise ones are played by two septuagenarians – dance giants Bisakha Sarker and Guru Pratap Pawar – and by veteran breakdancer from Leeds Villmore James, the founder of Phoenix Dance, alongside younger performers who will pair with them to play their younger selves.
The Wise Ones
The Wise Ones is a passion project for Balbir Singh. He explains:
“I’ve always dreamed of bringing all my favourite older dancers together in one show. These dancers were my mentors and I can’t forget that. The Wise Ones is helping me to achieve that dream on my doorstep as well as helping the next generation.”
That the older dancers retain a passion for their craft and the artistry is clear to see. Each of the older artists taking part in the piece has served as a role model to Balbir at some time, and the show is evidence that dance can be a life-long pursuit. “As a society we can fixate on age. A lot of my idols are older – and the great thing about this work is that I get to present a story about dancers of all generations.”
The choreography has taken influence from the journey of life, battles between good and evil, light and darkness. The Wise Ones is an uplifting work, revealing the past in the present, as our lead characters pass on their stories – and their wisdom – to the next generation. The audience will experience intricate and expressive movement from the dancers along with colourful costumes, engaging storytelling and an unusual take on unpacking the dilemmas of growing old.
The music of Jesse Bannister
The dancers will be accompanied by live music created by composer and virtuoso instrumentalist Jesse Bannister. Jesse and Balbir are long-time friends and collaborators, sharing a mixed heritage background and a ‘third culture’ sensibility. “It’s great to bring Jesse into this work. We always like to push each other out of our comfort zones and the work is always the better for it”, says Balbir. And Jessie agrees, saying, “It’s fantastic to be able to make work together again”. Jesse will be joined on stage by vibrant talent, guitarist Ford Collier.
Balbir is looking forward to seeing old and new friends from the city:
“Covid has upended a lot of people’s lives and now more than ever we need to celebrate people of all ages. Dance and music have such immediacy and impact – The Wise Ones will be a symbol for the future of Bradford. There’s no better way to lift the spirits than to come together in your local theatre.”
An evening of dance, live music and Indian food
Balbir Singh Dance Company has created the perfect night to get you in the festive mood – the title has a hint of the nativity story about it – and what the audience can expect is a delicious evening of dance, live music and Indian food, prepared by a professional chef.
“We have put together an incredible ensemble of performers and amazing musicians and we’ll be celebrating dance as a passion for all ages”, said Balbir. “I’d like to thank the team at Kala Sangam and everyone involved for supporting this new show. We are lucky in that our funding from Arts Council England allows us to create a new piece of work every year.”Balbir Singh
Hopefully this is just the beginning of a longer journey for the piece. An extract of the show has been filmed at Northern School of Contemporary Dance (where Balbir himself studied contemporary dance) in a collaboration between One Dance UK and BBC4 for an upcoming programme ‘Dance Passion’ to be screened in 2022:
“Audience members will be invited to share their definition of wisdom with us – and that way the show will keep on developing. It’s tricky times for everyone but I hope people will come out to see the show this weekend. We are looking to impart plenty of joy and a little wisdom.”
The Wise Ones is a commission from Kala Sangam in Bradford. Balbir Singh Dance Company is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation. The show premieres at Kala Sangam Arts Centre on Friday 10 and Saturday 12 December 2021 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available on a ‘pay what you decide’ basis.