Oral History Project

A unique project drawing on the practices of both choreography and oral history.

Oral History is the art of collecting spoken testimonies – these are personal, intimate and unique audio records that illuminate much about the time and society that has been lived through.

As part of Akademi’s Heritage Project, more than 30 pupils from across Krishna Avanti Primary School (Harrow), Pagrav Dance Company and Sanskruti Cambridge took part in a multi-layered project with Oral Historian Laura Owen and Lead Dance Artists Krishna Zivraj-Nair, Linnéa Husmann, Parbati Chaudhury and Olivia White.

Participants collected precious oral testimonies from elderly family and community members, and used this experience to devise a choreographic response, drawing upon themes of diaspora, migration and identity.

Watch the documentary

This truly intergenerational project brought our young participants closer to their family members and heritage. Watch their journey through oral history and dance in our short documentary.


Generously supported by

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

Podcast Series

Oral Historian, Laura Owen, has produced a series of podcasts with the participants of Akademi’s Oral History project.

They interviewed family, friends, and elders to find out stories about their migration, culture and memories. Some participants shared thoughts about their identity as an Indian child in the UK and how they remain connected with their South Asian heritage by engaging in music and culture.

young children being taught hand movements during a dance workshop

Episode 1

Migration, culture and memory

This episode of Akademi’s oral history podcast series explores themes of migration, culture and memory with students from Krishna Avanti Primary School, Harrow. After 5 oral history training sessions, students interviewed family, friends, and elders to find out more about their childhood memories, migration stories and the challenges they faced. In this episode we hear clips from some interviews recorded by Krishna Avanti students – including Rajesh’s story of growing up in Kenya and June’s memories of World War II in England.

Krishna Avanti Primary School, is an inclusive Hindu faith school that is part of the Avanti Schools Trust.

20 Key Stage 2 pupils are currently enjoying weekly Oral History sessions every Thursday with Oral Historian, Laura Owen. From January 2021, they will start working on the creative movement responses to the collected oral histories with Lead Dance Artist, Olivia White.

head and shoulders portrait
Laura Owen

Laura is a freelance oral historian who has worked on several oral history projects based around community heritage.

Her interests lie in bringing together communities through both shared and diverse histories and memory.

Alongside her work with Akademi, Laura is managing another NLHF project based in Essex.

head and shoulders portrait
Olivia White

Olivia has been delivering dance workshops in various settings for a number of years, including schools, prisons and IRC’s, as well as teaching regular classes within adult education settings.

Since the 1990’s, she has developed a focus on South Asian arts, incorporating both classical dance and vocal studies alongside an increasing interest in arts and mental health. Since 2007, she has spent time organising various events in rural settings, including charitable multicultural showcases, Classical Indian Dance and Music concerts and workshops with visiting artists.

young children participating in a dance workshop

Episode 2

Family stories and life experiences

This episode of Akademi’s oral history podcast series showcases the interviews recorded by students of Sanskruti School of Dance in Cambridge. We hear stories passed down through families and the life experiences of family and friends of Sanskruti students including stories about their migration to the UK, South Asian culture in the diaspora and the importance of music to their interviewee’s lives. In this episode we hear clips from students’ interviews – including Gita’s thoughts about her identity as an Indian child in the UK and Vivek’s memories of migrating from India to Australia via the USA.

Sanskruti School of Dance trains students from all age groups and with different cultural backgrounds in a variety South Asian dance styles, Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Bollywood, as well classical Carnatic Vocals and the Veena. The school’s aim is to holistically train students in performing arts allowing students to build confidence, create, imagine and express, their thoughts and feelings. Sanskruti is lead by Artistic Director Krishna Zivraj-Nair, a Bharatanatyam artist, teacher and choreographer.

7 Key Stage 2 students from Sanskruti School of Dance are currently enjoying weekly Oral History sessions every Sunday with Laura, together with the students from Pagrav Dance Company. From January 2021, Krishna and Linnéa will start working on the creative movement responses to the collected oral histories.

head and shoulders portrait
Krishna Zivraj. Photo: Amit Nair

Artistic Director and Dance Artist

Artistic director of Sanskruti Cambridge. Winner of Akademi’s UTKARSH runner up in 2016, two ACE grants, One Dance Teaching Mentoring programme and ISTD Bursary Award. Formally trained as a research scientist with a PhD in Neuroscience, Krishna is also a stage 2 breast cancer survivor. With the experience of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and two surgeries in a span of 14 months, her new mantra is #LifeIsGood!

head and shoulders portrait
Linnéa Husmann. Photo: Simon Richardson

Senior Dance Artist

Krishna on Linnéa:

Linnéa is one of my senior students and her role in the Oral History project will be that of the lead senior dance artist. She will create dance movement based on the testimonies collected by my junior students. She will use Bharatanatyam vocabulary to choreograph this new dance work.

Linnéa’s commitment and dedication to her dance is endorsed by ISTD awarding her with the Junior Bursary Award in 2019 to recognise her potential in dance. Linnéa has participated in Akademi’s Yuva (2015) and Navadal (2019). Moreover, Linnéa is also one of my lead dancers for Akademi’s Seed Commission and this opportunity will boost her potential as a young dancer and choreographer.

teacher sits in front of a group of primary school children

Episode 3

Connecting with South Asian heritage through music, prayer and cultural events

This final episode of Akademi’s oral history podcast series showcases the interviews recorded by students of Pagrav Dance Company, who underwent training in oral history as part of Akademi’s Heritage Project. This episode explores how the interviewees remain connected with their South Asian heritage throughout their lives in the diaspora by engaging in music, prayer, and cultural events. We’ll hear stories including Lata’s cultural connections to India whilst living in Africa and the UK and Chandni’s experiences of being one of the only South Asian girls at school.

Pagrav Dance Company creates and promotes Neo classical kathak, invigorating the form with modern context and renewed presentation, while encouraging new thinking and understanding of the discipline. The company creates and tours thought-provoking productions and is committed to nurturing the next generation of dance artists through its comprehensive training and education streams.

8 students aged 10–21, including professional dancers, from Pagrav Dance Company are currently enjoying weekly Oral History sessions every Sunday with Laura, together with the students from Sanskruti School of Dance. From January 2021, Parbati will start working with them on the creative movement responses to the collected oral histories

head and shoulders portrait
Parbati Chaudhury. Photo: Justin Jones

Lead Dance Artist

Parbati Chaudhury is a performer, choreographer, maker, and teacher, working for a number of companies and choreographers, including Pagrav Dance Company (PDC), ReRooted Dance Collective, Kadam Dance, and Amina Khayyam Dance Company.

In the making of her own work, Parbati echoes narratives she encounters using dance rooted in kathak, live music, and theatre, with collaboration at its heart. As one of DanceXChange’s 2020 Choreography Awardees, she is further developing her work-in-progress, Goodgirl.

As a teacher, Parbati leads kathak classes for PDC, as well as independently. For this project, she will be the Lead Dance Artist, representing PDC.

Join the mailing list

Sign up