Interview with Beyond Bollywood’s Benis Cheng

Akademi speaks to Benis Cheng about Beyond Bollywood – a Hong Kong based dance charity who are using Indian dance to celebrate cultural diversity, equality, respect and community inclusion.

AK: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your organisation, BEYOND Bollywood.

About Benis

Educated and trained in the fields of Banking and Finance, Wealth Management and Strategic Planning, Benis had served in private banking for over 10 years prior to her determination to establish BEYOND Bollywood in 2015.

Benis’s enthusiasm in Indian dance ignited her passion to use performing arts as a medium of the transformative impact to the community. Her solid managerial experience gained in the financial sector, plus her vision to enrich the dance ecology with Indian dance sparkles more creative ideas, flourishes cross-sectoral partnerships and leads the group to higher levels.

Currently, Benis focuses on curating cross-disciplinary dance collaborations among local and international artists by presenting Indian film festivals, artist talks, overseas cultural exchange programmes, radio programmes, dance education, dance-theatre productions and performances. Besides, Benis worked with Enactus Hong Kong as a mentor in both Social Business Mentorship Program and Resolve Fellowship Program to share her professional background and career stories in universities.

About BEYOND Bollywood

BEYOND Bollywood was founded as a Hong Kong dance charity in 2015 with the aim to use Indian dance as a vehicle to create cross-sector and cross-cultural collaborations to advance the concepts of cultural diversity, equality, respect and community inclusion.

AK: What made you nominate Akademi to partner with on this project – Tri‑cities Indian Dance Exchange Program? 

BC: Building on the previous experience gained in Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022, this project will be extended to be designed and envisioned as a cross-cultural dance exchange program in partnership with the well-established organisations like Akademi where those Indian diaspora have been promoting Indian dance with great success through their exclusive models in their respective cities.

  1. Capacity strengthening for individual dance artists while nurturing the key personnels of our organization. As there is tentatively don’t have any reference models of South Asian Dance organisation with long history based in Hong Kong, The experience and knowledge gained from Akademi with over history of 40 years are good references to facilitate BEYOND Bollywood in placing Indian dance on the Hong Kong cultural map and in the long run, making its transition to a more mainstream, Hong Kong focussed and fully fledged dance development organisation.
  2. Advancing and broadening the visions or sparkling the enlightenment and empowering HK artists to make dance become inclusive, educational and accessible while remaining and pursuing rigour, depth and artistic excellence. This is the main reason why we designed this holistic project including collaborative interaction with facilitation by well-rounded Artistic Director based in London, sharing her expertise by dialogue exchange and delivering their new collaborative works by public live performance in Worcester and Athens in Greece.
  3. Growing and expanding the professional Indian dance network with the aim to foster the cultural bridge between the UK and Hong Kong through our common thread – Indian Dance. We aim to facilitate and simulate a city-to-city cultural dialogue and exchange as well as turn our visions into a tangible, non-linear and dynamic cross-cultural exchange initiative. It is vital in the remapping of alternative modernities and reinvigorating the field of Indian dance through the forging of contemporary articulations and initiate any potential collaboration between the UK and Asia in the long term.

AK: Tell us about the experience of bringing artists to London and working with Akademi’s Artistic Director Suba Subramaniam?

BC: We put dance artists with different backgrounds and training together like how Nila was made was a breakthrough. Indian dance was never been created in the prevalent dance ecology in Hong Kong. Such combination is worth trying and further developing so the quality of interlacing could be enhanced and articulated with accuracy. Suba created a culture of exploration and experimentation who could be able to recognise each dance artist in those around her and learn how best to get the best from them in a short period of time. This collaboration and co-working was key to creating exciting new work.

AK: What was the highlight of the experience?

BC: Dance artists need time to withdraw from the hustle of life in order to attend to the needs of the creative voice within. That time apart provides the platform for individual ideas that lead to new artistic visions. They are able to think only about their particular collaborative work, artists have the freedom to explore without mundane constraints. This can be very luxurious pursuit in their life because not all the dance artists can make their living as a professional dancer. They all treasure the moment which they only focus on this collaborative work in London.

AK: What were the results or outcomes of the collaboration?

BC: A 8-min new dance creation was made in collaboration with five dance artists under the facilitation of Suba was finally presented in Worcester and Athens respectively. We are planning to be lengthened as a 30min dance performance in Dec 2023 and hopefully present in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2024.

What exciting projects will BEYOND Bollywood be working on in the future?

2nd AWAKE Indian Dance Festival 2023

AWAKE Indian Dance Festival is conceptualised by BEYOND Bollywood with a vision to build a stronger presence for Indian dance in the city through building artistic and cross-cultural exchange platform between international and local dance artists, showcasing and promoting cutting-edge and exciting contemporary choreography as well as deepening the appreciation of Indian dance and its cultural heritage in Hong Kong.

The first edition of the AWAKE Indian Dance Festival, which took place in October 2021, featured performances of Indian classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi and Mohiniyattam; Bhangra, Giddha and Bollywood dance together with other Indian cultural activities.

Stepping into its second edition, AWAKE Indian Dance Festival will be a two-month long and multi-venue program in a hybrid format with multitude of events to be hosted from Oct to Dec 2023 with the theme ‘Together Under ONE Roof’ with the objective of building a cultural bridge between local and international communities.

Covering the fields of performing and visual arts, they’re hosted at different venues in 3 different regions across the city. It engages artists and the wider Indian community providing public participation with immersive cultural experience through Indian carnival, Bazaar, Indian folk art group exhibition, dance and theatre performances, choreographic residencies, interactive workshops, artists’ talks and further special outreach events to be happened in unconventional spaces open to the public.

Krishna’s Dance Drama production and exhibition on 26th & 27th Jan 2024

A classical journey of dance, music and lights – Krishna, explores the some of myriad ways in which Lord Krishna (one of the most loved Indian Gods) enchants his people. The show is a fusion of contemporary, folk and classical music and dance on stage.

Indian Dance Theatre Exchange and Performance in Adelaide Australia – Cultural Exchange Program in March 2024

We are planning to bring a double bill Indian dance theatre productions and present in the coming Adelaide Fringe 2024. This two solo dance theatres will be presented by an Indian man and a Hong Kong woman respectively which is a cross culture, unique solo play exploring the topic of diversity and nature. It covers various styles from traditional to contemporary Indian dance, which will be rich in gestural vocabulary telling the stories of Hong Kong,Tai Po and Hyderabad. We hope to inspire our audiences to confront the damage they have caused to the environment, and raise their awareness towards environmental protection and animal conservation.

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