#JeSuis Image Credit: Supplied

Ask choreographer Aakash Odedra about why he chooses to dance and he says the question is like asking a fish what it feels like to swim. The award-winning dancer, who performs at New York University Abu Dhabi on Thursday, explains that he’s always been interested in movement: “I was obsessed with dance. Every time I would pick up a glass, I would choreograph how I picked up a glass of water. I was that obsessed.”

That attention to detail has paid him back over the years with a rich oeuvre and more than 300 showcases in 40 countries.

To the UAE, the British-South Aisian performer brings '#JeSuis', which premiered in February 2018 in The Black Box at The Arts Center in Abu Dhabi. “'#JeSuis' is a very political piece,” explains Odedra. “It’s about the oppression of freedom of speech. I worked with seven Turkish dancers from Turkey. It was commissioned and also made in Abu Dhabi. We stayed there ( in NYUD) for five weeks.

“So the piece literally looks at these dancers and their real lives in Turkey. Their world in Istanbul becomes like a collection of what’s happening around the world - we had right-wing politicians [coming into power], mass migration, people being made homeless.

“JeSuis means I am. It’s really talking about going from the I to the we, from the individual to the collective.”

Deeper thought

He goes on to explain that the current show is very different from the one he started off with, for he realized there is always a cause that resulted in an effect. “When I first made that piece there were two perspectives in the story - there was the dictator and the victim and it was very obvious [who was who]. Then when I made the final version in Abu Dhabi, it was far more layered, because how does a dictator become the dictator - we have to ask the question. There has to be something that created the dictator and actually, is the dictator also oppressed just as he oppresses his victims? I added many more layers and textures.”

The intricate layering is quintessential Odedra, who believes his work offers a safe space in which to explore an idea and sink into it. “My work is always there to provoke thought and to create deep thinking. But at the same time, it’s also there to take you away from day-to-day life and take you into a bubble from where you can explore this world in isolation from life around you,” he explains.

Shift in gears

The show comes after a time of thought, of reconnection, of a relook at life for Odedra, who says the current COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive but also has brought a positive change in his outlook. “I think the new setting is alien. But from March till now, I suppose this has become the new normal. And the pandemic has become a part of life.

“ It’s strange but for some reason, even with all this happening, I never felt panicked about what was happening around me. In many ways, it was a relief to me, because I was touring so much for the past 12 years…and then suddenly everything finished…. I was stuck in one place, and being in one place actually gave me time to disconnect from the world and understand what life was about. So this pandemic was a way for me to stop, see and reflect on where I really am.”

It’s a different world, one that needs bubbles like the ones Odedra creates so we can navigate the changing tides. It’s as the choreographer says: “Change is the only constant.”

Don't miss it!

'#JeSuis' will be screened online on Thursday at 8pm. This will be followed by a live Q&A.