"We explore all kinds of relationships within the space"
The Jaivant Patel Company, a lauded international arts organisation, emerges as a trailblazer with its touring production, Waltzing The Blue Gods.
The show is more than a mere stage production; it is an immersive odyssey that delves into the depths of Kathak, to seamlessly weave together threads of tradition, spirituality, and personal revelation.
Jaivant, an openly homosexual British Indian artist, fearlessly steers this artistic endeavour, reimagining the queer symbolism inherent in Hindu deities.
From the confines of traditional symbolism, Jaivant excavates narratives of gender fluidity, intersexuality, and queerness amongst the rich backdrop of Indian mythology.
It’s a journey that mirrors his struggles to reconcile the celebration of queer imagery within his cultural heritage with a contemporary society that was slower to embrace his queerness.
Drawing on the role-playing dynamics in Kathak, Jaivant explores queering possibilities within the ancient dance form.
Whilst the dancing, lighting, and stage presence are mesmerising, the live music in Waltzing The Blue Gods is equally magnetic.
Composed by the globally respected Alap Desai, the songs are performed by an ensemble including Yadav Yadavan, Vijay Venkat, John Ball, and Sahib Sehmbey.
It manages to add a soulful dimension to this avant-garde artistic venture.
At its core, Waltzing The Blue Gods is a deeply personal and thought-provoking stage production, pushing the boundaries of queerness, South Asian culture, faith, and history.
As this tour unfolds, we caught up with Jaivant Patel to discuss the main themes, what people can expect, and the importance of presenting this show to the world.
How did the idea for ‘Waltzing The Blue Gods’ originate?
Waltzing The Blue Gods is a Kathak production that reimagines worlds and spaces, which is a thread of theme through most of Jaivant Patel Company’s (JPCo) work.
This concept of reimagined worlds is connected to Indian mythology and iconography within its many faiths/spiritual schools of theology.
It celebrates alternate narratives that encourage audiences to consider what it looks like when a homosexual British Indian man speaks his truth upon entering a traditional faith/spiritual space.
What happens when he speaks the same truth in the faith/spiritual space we imagine he creates for himself?
Krishna and Shiva are two fascinating gods for me, that are connected in many ways, the obvious being, both being two different shades of Blue.
They both represent two points of my life having been brought up in a household with my grandma being a Krishna devotee, and myself maturing later in life into a Shiva devotee.
They have always been a part of my existence as both a British Indian and a homosexual man.
How did you embrace your sexuality and did that shape your artistry?
I don’t think I ever recall embracing myself as an open homosexual British Indian man – I just was always able to openly live my truth.
I would say with age comes even more confidence to be who you are, so that’s probably where most of my journey lies.
Having said this, I too am aware of the pressures faced by the South Asian LGBTQIA+ community in being open.
“It’s not always a possibility for some.”
From a young age, I was fascinated with the imagery of Ardhanarishwara, an androgynous representation of the god Shiva, which brings together male and female energy in one form.
In many ways, I related to what I saw as a very queer image that stood outside the social constructs of heteronormality.
Yet, I struggled to understand contemporary society’s celebration of it, about the stigma they placed on my being a gay man who didn’t necessarily fit the traditional boxes of gender.
In what ways does the show challenge contemporary ideas?
This production has an artistic vision of my making, so it is already led by a member of the LGBTQIA+ maker and lens.
The work challenges the disconnect between societal acceptance of the evident queering present within Indian mythology vs the stigma associated with actually being someone from the queer community.
One of the main obstacles faced in promoting more inclusive narratives is rooted in a misconception of the work.
People, without having seen it or being open to doing so, will judge the show as they may have strong opinions about classicism in dance or even upholding religious values.
This or any work that Jaivant Patel Company does regarding queerness is presenting alternate viewpoints that are based on British South Asian queer experiences and navigating that.
I would urge anyone who is curious to come and see the work as its’ intention is to celebrate the intercultural weaving of what it means to be South Asian, queer and have Hindu faith.
Could you share the significance of Kathak in the show?
In Kathak, we often see a role-playing performer, regardless of gender, playing a nayika (heroine) or nayak (hero).
It is here that the potential queering possibilities are presented.
For me, this is akin to the queerness also presented in the fluidity of gender in the presentation of the Hindu deities and their iconography.
“Imagery, visuals and sound are important to any work that JPCo presents.”
I would say that just having an openly homosexual man in the space talking of his queer experience through Kathak, which is primarily a story-telling form does just this.
This is about a reclaiming of space to communicate narratives that are authentic and in many ways universal.
For example, the live music aspect of the work is by an all-male ensemble with whom I interact.
We explore all kinds of relationships within the space using traditional Indian classical structures of music and dance.
How does the show draw from history to reclaim queer space authentically?
Absolutely it does reclaim space authentically as it is led from a place of queerness by a homosexual-identifying South Asian man.
I have seen examples of work where cis-gendered choreographers have used the experiences of the South Asian queer community to tell narratives.
However, I believe those stories aren’t theirs to tell.
This is because the lens of hierarchy is displaced and doesn’t empower the queer artist at the forefront of the work.
However, Waltzing The Blue Gods does this, which is very important for our message.
What reactions and feedback have you received?
We have received positive responses, in particular from the South Asian LGBTQIA+ community.
They comment on how the representation is important and how many didn’t see this as something possible.
“This highlights the potential of other queer creative voices who wish to tell similar narratives.”
Identifying this need has led JPCo to successfully partner with Bradford’s Kala Sangam and award two seed performance commissions to British South Asian LGBTQIA+ identifying creatives.
We received many applications from an open call.
The most important thing the audience brings to Waltzing The Blue Gods is trust and total belief in the work and JPCo, in which they wholeheartedly invest their brilliant talents.
This allowed me to collaborate in ways that were free and empowering which makes the high quality of the production what it is!
Have you received any backlash from South Asian communities?
I would be lying if I said no.
However, without dwelling on this too much, situations that have occurred demonstrate the need for more work of this kind.
We need to educate and have open conversations about the South Asian queer community and its need for equality.
JPCO’s mission statement is rooted in ‘The JOYFUL, REMINAGINGING of BOLD human stories’.
This speaks volumes of the type of work we want to create with the narratives we choose to be inspired by.
How can ‘Waltzing The Blue Gods’ ignite broader conversations?
I hope it will open further conversations to better understand the South Asian LGTQIA+ community.
I also hope it will also empower other queer creatives to create South Asian LGBTQIA+ performance work.
It’s also important to talk about venues and programmers in the context who don’t traditionally programme work of this nature, as it is seen as a ‘risk’.
A ‘risk’, I believe, is important in reflecting the communities they serve and should be representing.
“JPCo is also currently working on a new work entitled Astitva, to contribute to this impact.”
Astitva will be a piece choreographed by myself on three dancers talking about the experience of South Asian homosexual men.
In a world still navigating the complexities of gender identity and acceptance, Waltzing The Blue Gods stands as a beacon of change and empowerment.
Jaivant Patel envisions the stage production as a catalyst for dismantling heteronormative constructs deeply rooted in the South Asian diaspora’s unconscious biases.
This deeply personal and intimate show challenges the conventions of Indian classical dance and prompts audiences to reflect on South Asian queerness.
Likewise, it brings forth the true magic of Kathak, whilst celebrating South Asian symbolism, imagery, and music.
With a stellar team of choreographers, composers, and musicians, the show promises authenticity and beauty.
Waltzing The Blue Gods is touring The Place, London on April 16, 2024. Get more information and tickets here.