Double Delicious gives audiences a glimpse into the foods that fuel 5 public figures.
Food can hold such a significant part of people’s lives, carrying ancestry, traditions, crucial moments, and culture through generations. This piece explores the stories behind some of the most significant foods in the life of chef Elizabeth Chong, writer and personality Benjamin Law, kimchi specialist Heather Jeong, actor/performance maker Valerie Berry, and choreographer/performer Raghav Handa. From the same creators of The Serpent’s Table (2014 Sydney Festival), Double Delicious is a brilliant mash of performance and culinary delight, with each figure cooking their dish of choice right in front of the audience.
I spoke with Raghav about his experience as a performer, and his contribution to this exciting and groundbreaking piece of theatre.
Could you tell me a bit about your performance history?
I am an Australian choreographer and performer of Indian heritage with training in modern and Australian Indigenous contemporary dance. I have worked in a variety of dance roles for over 15 years including as a choreographer, performer, collaborator, dance lecturer, artist representative and mentor for young performers. My works are highly physical and theatrical, incorporating stylistically diverse languages, an array of artistic mediums (from film and spoken word to 3D motion capture technology and sculptural set design) and, occasionally, some humour to help deliver my message. Over the last 8 years my works – TUKRE’ (“Pieces” in Hindi 2014-15), MENS REA (2016) and FOLLY & TIME (2018-19) – have been performed in festivals and theatres across Australia and overseas. I have also created two works in collaboration with Choreographer Sue Healey, DOUBLE ENTENDRE and NARCICUSS with the Australia Ensemble Piano Quintet. In my practice, I challenge cultural and gender norms by navigating the “preciousness” and complexities that surround traditional hierarchies and principles. My first major solo work TUKRE’ was also performed for the Australia-India Institute to highlight the artistic connection between our countries. In MENS REA and FOLLY & TIME, I explored the use of technology and film in novel ways and challenged how we perceive “live performance”. I created multiple “projected identities”, each with a stylistically diverse dance language interplaying seamlessly with live body, spoken word and sound to create the illusion of a multi-performer work. My goal as a choreographer is to create a unique body of work, inspired by culturally sensitive materials, that showcases Indian arts, culture and history through a contemporary prism and my individual dance language.
What excites you about Double Delicious? How is this performance different from others you have been a part of?
FOOD – I am a keen cook and I love to eat! In India, my family had political and diplomatic ties. Growing up in our house at times, resembled the United Nations!! My mum would prepare extensive feasts for our family and numerous guests who wanted to sample the best of Indian cuisine. My mother never actually taught me to cook first hand……but I learnt from watching her prepare and execute her dishes, methodically. I arrived in Australia during high school as an exchange student – without my family. I had to cook and look after myself from an early age. Watching mum cook – came in handy. I would experiment and improvise every time, I wanted to eat. Sometimes, my dishes would turn out to be inedible, and other times – tolerable. Determined to get it right- I would go to the payphone down the street (I’m talking 1998-99) with a notepad in hand to call my mum for advice. She would explain the process as best she could. (Wish I had FaceTime then!) I fell in love with cooking from there on. As a contemporary artist, I have been heavily influenced by the leading Australian choreographers who have shaped my career as a performer – and all reveal themselves in my work. Notwithstanding these influences, my Indian-Australian heritage is at the core of my own works – often in the themes I explore and always through my movement language. DD offers me an opportunity to combine my love of food with my artistic expression to share my work with audiences through the mode of story-telling. I have not done anything like this before. I usually begin with movement ideas as the genesis of my works – in DD, I started with a script instead and a recipe. Also, in DD the Asian Australian stories are on the foreground. Ideas and themes in this work are robust and thought provoking – centred around culturally significantly cuisine. This work reflects the dynamic relationship between Asian Australian contemporary artists, their belief systems and their love of food. FOOD is an art form where language transcends traditional forms of communication. I am working alongside a stellar cast and dedicated creative team. Together, we bring our stories to life in a theatrical setting which includes a sculptural set design.
What dish will you be presenting as part of the show, and what is the story behind it?
Chole’ (chick peas). Chole’ in my family, is a dish that marks each stage of an individual’s life cycle. From the formal dressing of a new born on their 13th day to a person’s reincarnation and everything in between. The interrelation of chole’ with the rites of passage, my clan has followed, so at the end of an individual’s life they can be considered complete. What if you don’t follow the same pattern? Are you incomplete? I will question the role of chole’ in my contemporary Australian life. The notions of being a complete person…Can you actually have it all? Drink good wine, sip lattes at your trendiest local, eat chole’ occasionally and be considered complete? My story is a collection of my parents’ memories, my experiences and anecdotes about my recent trips to India.
Why do you think Asia TOPA is so important?
In ASIA TOPA – contemporary Asian culture is the default context: it’s not an exotic extension of Eurocentric international programming, or some worthy aspect of “multiculturalism”. The festival foregrounds Asia as a crucial influence on our own Aussie culture: a significant feature is its commissioning of cross-cultural collaborations between Australian and Asian artists. I feel, Asia TOPA provides space for originality and risk taking and offers something unique and relevant to highly diverse audiences.
Double Delicious opens on January 27th for a limited season.
For tickets and more information, please visit the Abbotsford Convent website.