• Thursday, July 18, 2024


Simon Thacker: Divine mix of music and dance

The Scottish classical musician’s collaboration with India’s Piah Dance Company will have its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on August 18

Simon Thacker with Piah Dance Company founder Priya Varunesh Kumar

By: Asjad Nazir

INTER-CULTURAL projects connected to India have enabled Simon Thacker to break musical boundaries.

The Scottish classical guitarist, composer, improviser, and ensemble leader follows up stunning work, including founding acclaimed music group SvaraKanti, with his new production Tandava.

The collaboration with India’s Piah Dance Company will have its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on August 18 and promises to give audiences an amazing new artistic experience.

Eastern Eye caught up with the British music maestro to talk about his close artistic connection to India and thrilling new music/dance show Tandava.

What keeps you connected to Indian music and culture?

A love of the music and a kinship with so many incredible performers who I have written for, collaborated, toured, and recorded with. I’m very lucky to have followed this path with leading exponents from Hindustani, Carnatic, Punjabi folk and Baul spiritual music, who I consider to be among the best in their musical worlds.

What was that first connection?

I clearly remember early in high school listening to Girija Devi and having visions of my musical future, which didn’t exist yet, that would take inspiration from this tradition. That premonitory feeling hasn’t changed to this day. I hear endless possibilities. I’m always looking for ways to ‘chase the mystery’, as I call it. In an era where so many compete in the same categories and genres, my natural path has always been to create my own.

Could you tell us about that?

This is very different from ‘fusion’, or simply putting things together. Traditions are my starting point. The deeper I explore a tradition, the more inspiration it gives me. I see latent, unexplored possibilities to transform and evolve, to become the musician of my imagination.

What brought you together with Bangalore based Piah Dance Company and its founder Priya Varunesh Kumar?

I have worked with them before. In 2019 the company created beautiful choreography and a video on my MaNN Vasanai, from the Trikala album by Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti. We discussed creating a full show production and saw the potential to give audiences a revelatory experience. Solo classical guitar and a trio of dancers is a very special combination.

What makes this line-up unique?

Priya, Sangeetha Jayaram, and Meghana Balaji draw on the rich heritage of their Bharatanatyam training and a deep love of Gujarati and Rajasthani folk forms. Together with my background, this offers many layers of cultural wealth to innovate from. For example, in the Tandava finale you will perceive the structure and definition of Bharatanatyam, and the fluidity of garba, choreographed to incandescent music that grows in intensity to the climax.

What specifically inspired Tandava?

 Tandava is the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, and the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution, unifying seemingly irreconcilable opposites. In our exploration, we find exhilaration in uniting polarities: explosive guitar playing and stunningly intricate footwork with hauntingly beautiful melodies and delicately fluttering fingers; multi-layered choreography and ecstatic rhythms of unstoppable momentum with sounds of timeless fluidity and movements of sublime serenity.

What can audiences expect when they go to a performance of Tandava?

Tandava is remarkably direct, emotionally charged, startlingly passionate and infinitely expressive. You will see four performers blessed with a vision, and the ability to evolve in order to realise it. You will feel a collective energy borne of those performers, giving everything through their art in the pursuit of exploring the power of the visible and invisible, dance and music. Scriptures describe different forms of Tandava, with the root being the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy. The channelling of this energy is what I hope audiences will experience.

Simon Thacker 7 credit Nitesh Anand copy
Thacker during a show

How much are you looking forward to taking this show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

It is always thrilling to be part of the world’s biggest arts festival. This will be Piah Dance Company’s debut at the festival, so we are very excited. It’s possible to premiere Tandava in Edinburgh because we were selected to be part of the curated Made in Scotland showcase, designed to show the best of Scottish arts, within the Fringe. Representing my country, for the fifth time, with such a spectacular new intercultural programme is a dream come true.

Will you take the show on tour after that?

The natural next stage is to tour India, which will happen first. One of the main purposes of the Made in Scotland showcase is to fly in international promoters to see this work and book it. Every element of Tandava has been honed and distilled to its most powerful form, so we are very confident it will resonate with them. We’ll also be filming after the Fringe run. Creating films that match the creativity of the music and dance has become an obsession.

Does the Edinburgh Fringe having so many shows put pressure on you or motivate you to create something amazing?

It’s absolutely motivating. If you haven’t been to Edinburgh in August, it is difficult to understand the glorious madness of having over 50,000 performances within the month. To flourish within it, you must either be famous, like a TV comedian, or offer something magical. When I was growing up, the Fringe was a place you would often discover mind-blowing, perceptionaltering performances you would never have otherwise had access to. I hope Tandava is one of those shows this year.

Tandava world premiere at theSpace, Upper Theatre (venue number 9), Niddry Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TH on August 18. www.edfringe.com and www.simonthacker.com

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