Sonia Sabri: Female Warrior

On the 100th anniversary of women's partial suffrage, we thought we'd have a natter with a woman who's asking questions we shouldn't still have to be asking. Sonia Sabri is the artistic director of SSCo, one of the leading South Asian dance and music companies in these here parts, and her real-life one-woman show, Virago, comes to The Old Rep on Feb 15.


Sonia on... The production
"When I had my first child, a woman asked me what sex my baby was. When I told her I was mother to a girl, she responded "oh, never mind" and excitedly told me that she'd "been blessed with two boys". It was the first time I'd ever experienced that kind of denigration of females — that perceived hierarchy — to my face.

"Taking this idea of favouring boys over girls to its dark extreme, I'd read and heard a lot about female foeticide in the Indian sub-continent, and to my shock, also in the UK. A particular article I read on this topic in 2016 made me very angry. It prompted me to think about the broader context of how women are perceived in the Eastern and the Western worlds.

"Virago is a dance-digital production that explores the notion of what being a woman is. Using contemporary Kathak dance, sound and light to challenge perceptions and misconceptions of the woman, gender and human identity, the show considers the decisions we must all make regardless of gender."


Sonia on... Feminism
"I don't really know what feminism means any more. I just want to value people for who they are, regardless of their gender. And I think there are certain human principles we need to reset our minds to.

"'Virago' means ‘female warrior’ in latin and 'vira' is ‘the brave one’ in Hindi, but this is not an explicitly feminist piece. What it really questions is: do we have any respect for each other anymore?"


Sonia on... What it's like to be in a one woman show
"It's been a long, two-year process with incredible collaborations, but all the choreography is my own and the concept is my own. There've been times when I’ve thought I just want to go to Cornwall and open a cake shop. But ultimately, dance is not a job for me, it's a privilege. Dance is who I am — I live it, I breathe it, I sleep it, I eat it. It's the only thing that makes me function every day. I’m not necessarily a very outgoing person, but dance gives me the opportunity to show a different side of my personality and feel more brave, to do and show certain things that I couldn't in the every day.

“Before curtain-up, I always have butterflies. Every show feels like it’s the first experience. You might have a track record of people loving your work but what if the audience doesn’t like it? Or they don’t feel it in the way that I feel it?

"And at the end? It’s an amazing feeling. Unlike previous shows which usually build to an elated end, Virago has something of a provocative finish — it kind of leaves people thinking. So even when the show finishes, there’s a bit of a pause before the applause. But you can hear it in the applause — that the audience have thought about the moment. That they’ve digested and appreciated everything that’s come before them — and that’s a wonderful experience."


Sonia on... The post-show discussion
"After the performance, we're inviting the audience to stay for a post-show discussion. Though not explicitly a mental health piece, the work touches on a lot of related themes and we'll have a psychiatric practitioner speaking to that on the panel.

"Every person that comes to see the show will have a different story, and a different view — that’s the beauty of making art. There is no one answer. So I think giving an incite into how the work was created, and how all the different elements work together — sound, lighting, movement — it opens up a discourse with the audience, and allows Virago to becomes something so much more than entertainment."

Virago is at The Old Rep on Thursday 15. Tickets are £10 to 12.

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