Shezad Khalil: Classic Encounters

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 06th November 2019 06:17 EST

Shezad is a creative marketing consultant, working for the independent dance company, Morph Dance Company. Morph Dance, who specialise in cutting-edge South Asian dance, have produced a plethora of shows for the acclaimed Leicester Curve theatre: the artsy hub of Leicester city, itself known for great grass-roots theatre.

The positive impact of these two authentic platforms converging has never been clearer than in Morph’s recent production, Classic Encounters, featuring rising experimental dancer, Subhash Viman Gorania.

The performance emerges an ode to the beautiful paradox that is traditional identity being redefined as cosmopolitan over time. Also choreographing the show, dancer, Subhash, communicates the complex concept of modern cultural identity as a product of grand migratory flux in the 21st Century by drawing from his own South Asian heritage: “It was a joy to draw such a big audience for this particular dancer’s first full length show, Classic Encounters,” Shezad told us. “As well as exploring a pertinent message at a crucial time, I believe what’s made the response so big is Subhash’s ability to present a panoramic theatrical experience too. He uses a fascinating multiplicity of cultural languages and dance vocabulary.”

Indeed, not only is Subhash a consummate dancer, stunningly flexible with his body, but also engages different expressive mediums such as dramatic theatre, painting, and light design as he dynamically moves across the stage. Shezad added: “this also conjures the meld of mythical and urban environments.”


Shezad himself holds a PhD in dance and was especially attracted to the project of Classic Encounters as a showcase of Subhash’s diverse dance method. “He is unique through and through– there’s no one style or signature.” A 1hr long piece, the feature length show is “a mix of Bharatanatyam, physical theatre and contemporary dance.” In Classic Encounters, Subhash moves with a magnetic ease that physically reflects his inner journey through multicultural life. This ingeniously reveals the emotional landscape underlying objective life events. A dramatic voiceover neutrally tells us of Subhash’s experience of bullying, his attempt to balance traditional ethnic expectations with modern and western influences, the breakdown of the overarching divide of the feminine and masculine, and finally, his embrace of dance as the best way to express his deepest self. Subhash as the dancer simultaneously acts out this more immediate intuitive reality alongside.

‘I related more to the power of Shiva,’ Subhash’s conscious voice continues to narrate in the background, as he feelingly enacts the basic classic movements of Kathak dance in front of the audience: ‘it was not Spiderman or Superman that spoke to me – it was this mythical God.’ It is the relatable story of an everyday saga. The detached voice-over adds: ‘I loved dance, but this wasn’t ok as a boy.’ Subhash acts out his love of the role of father, another taboo emotion for men who must be visibly rough, as he instead folds his arms to cradle a baby: ‘I married and became a father.’

Later, Subhash mimes a beggar on the street using graphic facial language to inhabit the marginalised character, as the narrative tells us his first trip to India was not quite the Bollywood glamour he expected. Not unlike the homeless people he sees around him, he feels an outsider in his home country. Actual experience is widely in conflict with the perceived story.

However, the underlying instincts of the dance also demonstrate the potential of being freed: more specifically, the power in becoming a realer version of oneself by accepting the colourful multitude of choice surrounding, and ultimately fighting back against convention itself. Accordingly, Subhash’s movements later evolve into strong, idiosyncratic hip-hop dances, gripping in their ability to preserve the elegance of traditional dance that came earlier. They morph into confident martial movements as the dancer gradually negotiates his cumulative outer experiences. Shezad commented: “we can pick and choose who we are, and this doesn’t have to be confusing or frightening.” Indeed, the raw yet expressive medium of the talented dancer directly emphasises this as he jumps in and out of engineered pyramids of light, refusing to be categorised, even as his environment tries to catch him. He defends his primitive, elusive self.

Here, Shezad talked interestingly on another central theme. “Bullying is another key issue in Classic Encounters. Even before the show, this topic resonated with audience members, being an underrepresented topic in public discourse.” This idea actually speaks to the wider intimidation culture of the current socio-political landscape. Indeed, there are times when Subhash’s emotive dance evokes the poignant fluid movements of Joaquin Phoenix in the recent hit Hollywood film, Joker, which also criticised the artificial construct of identity politics as oppressing a vital personal truth.

 Subhash’s immersive dancing then at once reconciles subjectivity with social expectation, portraying a triumph of human spirit. “Subhash’s dexterity transcends, in the show, to be more than just a dance. It is a sensory exhibit.” Rather than trying to clinically fix identities, Classic Encounters, tell us, we should try to open up the way we think about them in the first place. This will always be more loyal to people’s actual wants and desires. Indeed, animatedly traversing through joy and pain, surrender and clashing, the show concludes as cathartic as it has been intense.

 Ultimately, the piece celebrates the dissolution of physical boundaries to welcome the depth of individuality as a mandatory source of life. Shezad concluded as a creative consultant: “I’m reminded of a lesser known quote by Ghandi: it’s good to swim in the waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide!’ You’ve got to have confidence, and let that move you forward. Then you’re moving the right way.”

And so, being part of a genuine brand, Shezad helps deliver a fundamental ideological piece. Classic Encounters possesses all the sophistication of the West End with none of the airs. “In good marketing, you’ve got to really care for the product. Otherwise, you’ll never really reach people. Good PR and honesty go hand in hand.”

How did marketing become a particular focus for you?

 I enjoy working in tech, and am fascinated by the visual. I’m a very visual learner, having a background in theatre and historical theatre. I love promoting the evolution of certain forms, from the industrial to the humanities: e.g. how does post modern dance take the traditional and interpret it? I am passionate about pushing forward that message. I work across marketing and editorial. As well as promoting dance, I have written several articles on this topic.

What makes a good marketing consultant, in addition to being truly invested in the product? It seems you have to be mentally flexible?

Yes. A few related skills are: imagination. You’ve got to be able to think outside the box.

 Secondly, knowing your audience and targeting that demographic, making sure you are tailoring your marketing to that group, using social media well. You need to adapt. You need to be able to change your material on the surface to meet the needs of certain audiences, respecting that relationship with them.

Morph Dance Company on Twitter: @SubhashViman


 'It’s good to swim in the waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide!’

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