Khambatta Dance looks at where gestures come from

Jun 4, 2012

Where do gestures come from? Is it nature or nuture...or just from our own imagination?

Khambatta Dance Company explores these questions in performances this week at the Seattle International Dance Festival/Beyond the Threshold. In a work called "India Calling," the Seattle-based company looks at the gestures we've inherited from our parents.

The piece, for five dancers who wear red costumes, includes live monologues and videotaped interviews of people telling stories about gestures.

One of the videos features dancer Meredith Sallee.

"I put my right foot inside of my left knee," says dancer Meredith Sallee. She'll stand like a flamingo when she's brushing her teeth or while in line at the grocery store.

"One day, my mom, shocked, said 'How did you learn how to stand like that?' And I said, 'Why?'"

Sallee was mimicking a gesture her father used to do. But what shocked her mother was that he hadn't been around for years.

"I don't have any memory of seeing him stand that way," Sallee says. "So I was able to relate and feel a little strange and go, 'Whoa, that's me. But that's you.'"

That feeling of seeing yourself in someone else -- or seeing them in you -- is the central theme of this very personal work by choreographer Cyrus Khambatta.

In a video, he tells the story his parents meeting in India. His mother is American; his father is Persian. They met in the late 1960s and after moving to the United States, getting married and having kids, they divorced. It had been 28 years since Khambatta saw his father.

"And then all of a sudden I had this desire to find out who my father was and what he was all about," Khambatta says.

When they finally met, he was struck by the mannerisms they shared.

"His gestures. The way he would move his wrists. There were certain things, like there were flashes. I literally felt at moments like I was watching a little flash of myself."

Khambatta started his company in 1986, when he was a dance and theater student at New York University.  In 2001, he relocated to Seattle and his company has been based here ever since.

It took Khambatta 16 years, from the time he met his father, to create "India Calling." And because the material is so personal, people have asked him if it makes him feel uncomfortable exposing so much.

His answer? "I'm just exploring the feeling that I have in my life as I would like, as I think the purpose of art is, to have some self-reflection."

"India Calling" will be among the closing weekend performances of the third annual Seattle International Dance Festival, which hosts contemporary dance companies from India, West Africa, Switzerland, Germany and the United States. The festival also features a Seattle showcase, a series of works curated by local choreographers.

For a complete schedule go here.