Sonia Sabri Company Explores Wellbeing and Womanhood in Dance: Part One

8 Mar 2018






One Dance UK member Sonia Sabri Company’s Administration and Marketing Assistant, Shezad Khalil, explores mental health, wellbeing and woman in the first of a three-part article series for One Dance UK.

My Mind, My Health, My Wellbeing: The ‘Conditioned’ State of the Empowered/ Disempowered Woman

Part One: Sowing the Seeds…

Sonia Sabri Company is renowned for its dynamic presentation of contemporary issues. These points of matter include topics of interest that many persons face as health and wellbeing, the effects and affects of social conditioning, the challenging of negative stereotypes and the ‘voice’ of the female subject/object to name a few. Artistic Director, choreographer and dancer Sonia Sabri expresses these concerns through her articulation of classical Kathak as well as through her unique style of ‘Urban Kathak.’

Sabri then creates constructions that are relevant to the contemporary spectator as inspired by both South Asian and British cultures. However, her compositions are much more than just an influence of two discourses. In fact, her work is more concerned with what occurs when different lexicons come into close contact with each other and begin to confront one another ‘face to face!’ This is to say that Sabri’s dancing body experiments with various vernaculars and poses numerous questions. For instance, can a positive space exist when two dissimilar vocabularies meet? What is maintained of the ‘traditional’ and ‘fixed’ vocabulary and what is rejected? How then does what is ‘kept’ nourish the construction of ‘newness’ in the space of liminality? And how is this executed and displayed in the contemporary domain?

These are some of the central questions that Sabri asks of the language of dance when undergoing a process of experimentation and deconstruction.

Earlier in 2017, One Dance UK member Sonia Sabri Company presented a new and dynamic dance-digital solo: Virago, inspired by stories and issues concerning women. But the piece didn’t just come into being during this particular year. In fact, there is a lot to be told about the history behind this particular research and development based construction.

Since 2010, Sonia Sabri Company have been involved in and have participated in outreach work and projects with numerous women’s groups. And over the years, much of the research and outcome of these activities has fed into this current work-in-progress. I say work-in-progress because Virago is far from a ‘conclusion’ or an ‘end’ but a ‘snapshot’ of pressing issues, stories and representations of the female body and mind.

One of these earlier projects was called Khoj, meaning ‘to search,’ 2010. Khoj comprised of a series of workshops for the Women’s Networking Hub, Birmingham. Sabri explains how when she was first introduced to these group of women that “many of them showed signs of insecurity. They appeared anxious, lacked the confidence to speak and seemed voiceless and afraid.”

So the first port of call for Sabri was to build a sense of trust in these women that is if she was to eventually help free their ‘hidden’ voice. This notion of trust was built-up by Sabri having to wear different hats. She was the listener, the teacher, the counsellor, the psychologist, the nurturer as well as the artist. The initial journey was then far from straight forward. In fact, there were moments during the workshops in which Sabri found herself taking one step forward and two steps back. Yet this movement of to-ing and fro-ing was an important part of the process, that is, if Sabri wanted to get these women to experience access to the arts and to express their personal and individual narratives. Sabri explains that this notion of taking minute steps and making slow progress is in actual fact part of the process of getting these women to eventually express their silenced voices. Sabri continues to explain how “these people need a voice. Others need to be aware that there are women in society that are struggling and experiencing so many ‘silent’ challenges and yet so many of us have no clue about them. Their ‘hidden’ stories can in fact empower others.”

This scenario was then one of the first starting-points for Virago and one of the first outreach projects that allowed Sabri to work with women who were experiencing issues associated with mental health. The participants hidden voices and narratives were eventually expressed through the mediums of dance, drama and physical theatre.

Read Part Two