The Clay Connection

The Clay Connection was conceived by Vidya Thirunarayan. Thirunarayan is a Bharata Natyam performer, potter, founding co-Artistic Director of SANKALPAM, and case-study participant for my doctoral research. The Clay Connection brings together a collaborative team of artists from diverse disciplines including myself as choreographer (and participant observer) to explore Thirunarayan’s instinct, that between clay and dance, an untapped connection exists. The collaborators have utilised the classical Hindu text of Pārvatí’s Dirt as a narrative device through which Thirunarayan’s concept can be explored using the mediums of ceramics, text, theatre, sound and dance. To date, the project has undertaken ten days practice-based research (2016) with a further ten days research and development planned for the summer of 2017.

The project sits within the broader framework of my doctoral research, which focuses on a single case study, Bharata Natyam Company SANKALPAM, and explores the Company’s evolving relationship with the culturally dislocated classical dance form. The following research questions have arisen out of The Clay Connection’s research and development and contribute to my broader enquiry:

  • How is it possible to re-examine existing and embedded cultural knowledge through diverse cultural interactions and tasks?
  • What stimulates different entry points into embedded cultural knowledge? What ignites different engagements with embedded forms, within practitioners’ individual body sites?

Early analysis of The Clay Connection signals that the tools of ceramics (the wheel, clay, slip) act as catalysts for the artist (Thirunarayan) to engage with her practice in different ways and in particular with the expressive element of Bharata Natyam known as Abhinaya. It further indicates the relevance of how process impacts upon an individualised response to familiar cultural narrative, in this case the story of Pārvatí’s Dirt. With further analysis, it may be suggested that interactions beyond performance practices have significant potential for re-located artists in enabling different engagements with complex and embedded cultural knowledge systems and forms.

For a short video of the project please go to:

– Debbie Fionn Barr


Thirunarayan, V. (2016) The Clay Connection [R&D] Photo Credit: Zoe Manders


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