Amina Khayyam challenges sexism through kathak at the Edinburgh Fringe

AMINA KHAYYAM’S latest dance show has a powerful purpose.

Titled Slut, the kathak dance-theatre show being shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this month aims to challenge the negative connotations associated
with the word.

Khayyam explains: “It is based around the idea of the word – what it means and
how easily it is directed at women.

“If I am expressing my individuality, if I am expressing my independence, if I am expressing something slightly different than what it is expected of me, I am called a slut. It comes down to that in the end.”

Khayyam told Eastern Eye that she wants to tell the story to ultimately allow the audience to understand how the word has an impact on a person’s life – but additionally to “break the word down” and banish the adverse influence it can have.

“I want to disarm this word. I’m trying to own the word, appropriate it, disarm
the user of the word and just say ‘yeah, that’s what I am. What are you going to do
about it?’”

It is this kind of frank message that Khayyam has become notorious for.

Her company, Amina Khayyam Dance Company, has portrayed hard-hitting subjects through the expression of dance (her last production A Thousand Faces dealt with the objectification of women in indiscriminate abuse and violence) and it is women’s issues that are pivotal to Khayyam’s work.

Amina Khayyam

The choreographer, who trained in the north Indian classical dance form of kathak in the UK, said she always felt uncomfortable with the notion of dancing when she was a young performer because of the comments she would get regarding how she looked.

“All I got told was: ‘Oh, you look very pretty,’ and it made me think ‘Hang on a minute, what about my dancing?’ My dancing was never commented on. I wanted to change that for myself.
“I use the form now to sell contemporary stories. I’m using that storytelling form to make it into a strong theatrical expression.”

Khayyam works with a number of women’s groups with diverse cultural backgrounds and she uses this opportunity to research material for her work, as well as getting the audience involved within the mainstream theatre.

Slut was recently long-listed for the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award 2017, a nomination Khayyam said she was truly humbled by. And although she acknowledges that winning would be an “amazing achievement”, it isn’t the most important aspect.

She explains “[It’s] the fact that it is getting the recognition. I think the humbling thing is that the work that I do has always been around women’s issues. Issues that are ignored or issues that are sidelined – things that maybe aren’t seen as issues.”

Jane Chan and Amina Khayyam

Through her work, Khayyam is keen to ensure the types of performances she constructs are diverse to others. She acknowledges that while facial expressions in kathak are important, she is keen to use the body to express the emotions within the performance.

She explains: “Of course, the face is there, you can’t avoid it. But it’s how to negate that and bring out the use of the muscles and use every single cell in the body to tell the story and that is probably why my work has been recognised in the past because we’ve been able to reach to the audience and touch them emotionally.”
Slut is running until August 27 at Summerhall, Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. See for details

All images © Simon Richardson 2017