Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview Theatre Interview

Philippa Vafadari: Mind Walking

By | Published on Wednesday 20 March 2013


Award winning aerial theatre company BandBazi bring their latest piece ‘Mind Walking’ – a story of dementia and family dynamics set in the Parsee community – to The Albany in Deptford this week. We spoke to the show’s choreographer Philippa Vafadari about the new show, her company, and how aerial theatre works.

CM: Can you tell us something about the company, and how it came together?
PV: I was working as a movement director at a Scottish Drama school on a production of Twelfth Night and John Binnie was a director. I had written a dramatic monologue and choreographed a piece on the aerial equipment the silks, and I took them to John and asked if he would mentor me to write a one woman aerial drama. As a trained actor and aerialist, I always felt there was a possibility of combining the two disciplines.

Our first collaboration was the result of my monologue idea – ‘Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus’. Initially, when I lived in Glasgow, I worked as an independent artist. When I moved to Brighton in 2001, I was encouraged by my Arts Council office in the South East to form a company, BandBazi. I still collaborate with John on all BandBazi’s productions, bringing in other artists on a production to production basis.

CM: How do go about putting a show together? Can you tell us about  the collaborative process?
PV: Either John or I come up with the initial germ of an idea and then discuss it with the other person. With ‘Mind Walking’, I told John about an elderly Iranian man I’d met with Alzheimer’s who had forgotten how to speak English and only spoke Farsi.

John added his own ideas to the initial thoughts that I had about a mixed heritage family who can no longer speak to each other because the Indian grandfather has Alzheimer’s, and then Tanika Gupta was commissioned to write the resulting piece.

We devise our work through improvisations with actors. These improvisations are refined by the writer into the resulting script.

CM: How did you come up with your initial idea for this show?
PV: I am half Iranian and this piece is a ‘what if?’ scenario. What if my father got Alzheimer’s and could no longer speak English? How would my Mother speak to him? She doesn’t speak Farsi, nor do my brother and sister. The character in the piece has been transposed into an Indian heritage, but he is of the same culture as my family – Zoroastrian – which is a very small and private community that often says members shouldn’t ‘marry out’.

CM: Do certain themes or subjects lend themselves especially to being produced as an aerial show, or can you tackle anything in this way?
PV: I think we could tackle anything in this way. The aerial element is a metaphor for all sorts of things – love; abandonment; isolation; joy; Alzheimer’s.  It’s pretty versatile.

CM: How easy is it to find venues able to accommodate your kind of work?
PV: We have been touring since 2004. Initially very few venues were aware that they were able to accommodate an aerial production. We send in our rigger for a site visit to assess the building and its suitability, and over the years we have built up a database of venues that are suitable. Generally those that can’t are either too tiny or too vast.  Otherwise they are fine. One rigger we had said he could rig anywhere – even in a portacabin!

CM: Can you tell us something about the writer?
PV: Tanika is an incredibly prolific and high profile playwright.  She is currently under commission to the RSC and her play, ‘The Empress’, will open the spring season at The Swan. She is British Asian, but her plays cover all sorts of issues and cultures. She was interested in the idea of Alzheimer’s and a cross cultural marriage and added her own vision to the use of the circeau.

CM: The show is in London for one night only, and tours throughout April. Will it continue on for any tour dates or festivals after that?
PV: We would love the show to continue beyond this tour and are looking for a longer run at either one or two venues.

CM: What would you say to someone not especially familiar with this kind of show, to encourage them to come along?
PV: I think it is relevant to a wide range of people. A friend of mine who is a GP said that we have taken an issue that affects many people and added the unique and surprising dimension of cultural heritage to it. It is visually interesting through the use of the aerial circus as a metaphor. The characters are real and engaging and emotionally truthful. And it’s not a 3 hour marathon! It cuts to the chase – We say what we need to in 1 hour 20 mins…

BandBazi begin touring ‘Mind Walking’ with a one-off performance at The Albany, Deptford, on 22 Mar. You can find more details and tour dates on the company website here and you can book tickets via the venue website here

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