Seed Commissions

Six commissions that explored interesting and innovative ways of reaching audiences during lockdown

In response to the shutdown of all live performance in 2020, we asked artists to submit proposals for work with South Asian dance at its core which explored interesting and innovative ways in which audiences could continue to enjoy this art form in a situation where communities could not come together to experience dance in the same way.

The recipients of our Seed Commissions in 2020 took their project ideas in a number of different directions, with two of the films eventually being featured in Akademi’s first ever online dance-film festival in early 2021. Discover the recipients and the themes they explored below.

2020 Recipients

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Elena Catalano

Vriksham: The Rite of Trees

In this piece, I ask ‘what happens when we engage with trees as living beings that have an identity and personal history? How does our experience of nature change? How can I relate to trees as my dance partners who have a unique way of being, idiosyncratic resistances and affordances?…

In June 2022, I carried out further research and development for an immersive outdoor performance that explores human relationships with the natural world, in particular with trees. I worked with a collective of dancers trained in different South Asian dance styles using a collaborative approach in the creation of the movement material. We also explored voice and sound with singer Ranjan Ghatak.

In this piece, I ask ‘what happens when we engage with trees as living beings that have an identity and personal history? How does our experience of nature change? How can I relate to trees as my dance partners who have a unique way of being, idiosyncratic resistances and affordances? How can I then use this exploration to raise ecological awareness among others and to shift the culture from seeing trees as things in the landscape into relating to them as agents who actively create space and shift our perception of it?’

For this phase of the project, we worked in Cheam Park (Sutton), but we are aiming to create a fluid performative structure, where our movement response adapts to different parks and different trees. The ambition is to be able to bring this work to various parks in the UK, as well as having an open collective of artists and members of the public become part of the project.

The first phase of research for Vriksham was made possible through Akademi Seed Commission in 2020, while this second phase has been supported by ACE Project Grant funding for choreographic development in Odissi. We are planning to apply for further funding to bring Vriksham to life in Spring‑Summer 2023‑24.

Elena Catalano

dance workshop with young children

Kirsten Newell & Oxana Banshikova


The Seed Commission funding from Akademi and Creative Scotland was the beginning of our journey with MaMa. Starting out as a Dance on Screen work, it developed into a 45-minute production which toured throughout Scotland during the summer of 2022. We have developed new relationships with various programmers since the tour finished…

Photo: Brian Hartley

The Pianodrome programmed a three-day run of MaMa during the Edinburgh Fringe. We were invited by Morag Deyes to perform MaMa at the Heads Up Showcase at Dance Base. The tour has potentially opened the door to an opportunity to perform MaMa again in London in 2024. Elena Catalano is applying for funding to curate a program to support South Asian dancers through motherhood. We are also in discussion with Benis Ching in Hong Kong about touring MaMa internationally.

MaMa has allowed us to develop a very close relationship with our mentor, Suba Subramanian. Suba mentored our project. Her wealth of knowledge and experience brought so much to the production, and it was a great time of personal development for us.

Suba introduced us to Brian Hartley to help develop the workshops for parents and their babies/toddlers. These workshops created a safe place where parents could reflect on the experience of becoming or being a parent, while discovering new ways to play with their children. Although Oxana and I teach dance regularly, this was something very different. I think we learned a lot and gained new skills which we can use in the future. It enables us to be more diverse in the work we do.

With MaMa being our first production and tour, we feel, as directors, choreographers and performers, that we have learnt an enormous amount from the project. We have grown a great deal in confidence, knowing that we can take an idea from conception to a touring production. Going through the whole process has given us valuable experience and insight into how it all comes together.

Kirsten Newell and Oxana Banshikova

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Anusha Subramanyam


Karuna (करुणा in Devanāgari) is a dance response to people encountering chronic pain. Compassion to all, to ourselves and to others, in pain and suffering. To listen and be present for ourselves and each other, to celebrate who we are, to connect to all frailties and strengths…

The photographic images in this film were all co-created by Deborah Padfield with the following people living with pain during the perceptions of pain and face-to-face projects at St Thomas’ Hospital and University College, London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, between 2001 and 2016 – Liz Aldous, Rachel Brooks, Patrick Dixon, Stephen Dwoskin, Ann Eastman, Alison Glenn, Penny Harding, Nell Keddie, Chandrakant Khoda, Rob Lomax, Helen Lowe, John Pates, Linda Sinfield, Frances Tenbeth, Linda Williams, Robert Ziman-Bright and anonymous participants. 

We did two workshops online where we brought people with chronic pain together with medics to experience how movement can support their lives, how they can find care, compassion within themselves and use the movement practice to be more intone with their own selves, to feel physically more able, more alive for themselves and to consider courage and love within the same framework for themselves.

Anusha Subramanyam

Kesha Raithatha

Virtual Ghost

Virtual Ghost lets you experience a digital projection injection of South Asian movement into the diaspora of local Leicester, which promises to amaze you with a never seen before experience of your space. Created by Kesha Raithatha & InkMilk – enduring collaborators who have now seized the challenge of turning unconventional and ignored public spaces into a stage by creating site specific work in a virtual space.

Virtual Ghost has been screened at several events including Akademi Dance Film Festival 2021 and An Indian Summer Festival 2020.

Meera Patel

Making dance work accessible to blind and partially sighted audiences

Thanks to Akademi’s Seed Commission and with help from VocalEyes, I have had the opportunity to explore ways to make dance work rooted in kathak accessible to blind and partially sighted audiences. As we all adapt during these challenging times, I, like many have been thinking about all those things we miss about live dance performances; the physical connection to bodies and objects in the performance space, experiencing the physicality of performers’ bodies, extension of limbs relative to space, details in quality of movement, details in makeup and costume…

This challenge of connecting to what we see led me to consider how the arts are made accessible to blind and partially sighted individuals. There is a lack of access provision to live performances for this group of potential audience members. With a sudden increase in the volume of dance being streamed online, this has only been highlighted further.

I spent some time with Peut-Être Theatre and Bridget Lappin in co-writing a podcast series to get little ones and big ones listening, and moving at home together. Gurdain Singh Rayatt on tabla, Praveen Prathapan on flute and Debipriya Sircar on sitar joined us in creating some fun sounds and rhythms to explore through the body at home. Audiomoves series are available on Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts.

Meera Patel

two dance peformers

Krishna Zivraj-Nair

Magical Honey – children’s dance theatre for children and families

Sanskruti Dance received a seed commission from Akademi in 2020 to work on the R&D of a new children’s dance piece with Bharatanatyam, magic, storytelling, and music. Initially, we worked with young Bharatanatyam performers to workshop movement ideas along with Suba as our choreography mentor. After a successful sharing of the initial choreography, the company’s artistic director Krishna, in partnership with DanceEast and Akademi, received funding from Arts Council England to develop the work in 2021 at DanceEast and in Cambridge…

Magical Honey at Dance East 2021, photo: Simon Richardson

We had 2 successful weeks of R&D working with four young performers and Bharatanatyam dance artist, Suhani Dhanki. At the end of this R&D, we created the basic framework with music, movement and magic tricks and we called our new work, ‘Magical Honey’. We had 2 successful sharings and the feedback we received included:

“You have made Bharatanatyam accessible”.

“I was truly impressed by the performances and how Bharatanatyam works with this story. Magic is wonderful, and it blends well, you accept it as part of the story, not just as magic tricks.”

“I could tell the young people worked hard on their performance.”

Our work received further endorsement from Cambridge Junction when they announced that Magical Honey was one of the four recipients of The Stobb’s New Ideas Award 2021-2022! Further commissions by DanceEast, residency by Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Akademi’s support in choreography mentoring, led to our next Arts Council funding for further R&D in 2022.

The three weeks of R&D in 2022 led to Magical Honey having a brand-new set, contemporary costumes with features of the traditional Bharatanatyam costume, new magic tricks, audience interaction and more layers of music with a young violinist and narrator joining the cast! As a dance company, we aim to take our work to different types of venues. To test if Magical Honey can adapt to venues, we have done three sharings of the work, in a studio, at a school and in a library. The feedback we received includes:

“Impactful storytelling and mesmerising music. But of course, the dancers were magical.” – Audience 

It has been a truly rewarding experience creating Magical Honey from scratch working with professional artists and young performers at the same time. With 2 shows already booked by Cambridge Junction for Spring 2023, we at Sanskruti Dance are looking forward to taking Magical Honey on tour this year.

Krishna Zivraj-Nair

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