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Interview: Adding An Asian Touch to the Plastic Debate

Akademi’s Suba Subramaniam on Plastic Drastic Fantastic

Plastic Drastic Fantastic is a brand new dance piece coming to the Polka Theatre this spring. It’s been created by South Asian company Akademi, in conjunction with the Polka’s PolkaLAB artistic development programme, and explores human relationships with plastic. We wanted to find out a bit more about it, so we asked Artistic Director Suba Subramaniam to fill us in. 

Hi Suba. This sounds like an extraordinary combination of themes – exploring our interactions with plastic through South Asian dance. How did the idea come about? 

Interestingly, I initially conceived Plastic Drastic Fantastic as a Polka Creative Lab artist and the initial R&D took place as part of The Place’s Choreodrome annual research residency.

I have worked with arts and climate change projects for nearly two decades alongside my career as a dance artist and science teacher. All my experience has led to this project: plastics is an urgent, relevant subject capturing the imagination of young people in terms of activism. I think dance can play an important role in helping young audiences engage with important subjects.

Tell us a bit about the dance styles you incorporate, and which countries they represent. 

There are two South Asian dance forms in the choreography; Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Both classical dance forms originated in the Indian sub-continent. I have used the form of Bharatanatyam at the movement core with contemporary interpretation to create a bold aesthetic. This dance form lends itself perfectly for a communicable narrative with gestures to integrate simple elements of BSL for a D/ Deaf audience.

We use plastic for so many things in our everyday lives, but the issue of plastic pollution is a global one: are you focussing on it from a South Asian perspective?  How did you research the content of the show? 

Plastic Drastic Fantastic is a dance show exploring our cultural relationship with plastics – covering their harmful impact on the environment whilst also exploring what makes plastic so versatile, useful and ubiquitous. The show will be highly visual, drawing on some of the most familiar images of plastics in use and abuse, from plastic bottles to plastic bags. It will be relevant, fun, engaging and thought provoking to a young audience of any background or ability. This work will explore the beauty of plastics as a material, how they behave, their properties and also what happens when we misuse them.

We have also been speaking to Professor Mark Miodownik and Dr Zoe Laughlin from UCL (University College London) about some of the current issues around plastics. Their valuable knowledge has shaped the way we communicate about plastic in the show. 

How does dance help to interpret the issues? Can plastic be fun?

Of course plastics can be fun! Using the medium of South Asian dance, intricate movements and play, Plastic Drastic Fantastic draws on stories and ideas from young people to disentangle the fantastic possibilities that plastics offer us.

What age group is the production aimed at? Is it only for children, or a wider audience?

The production is suitable for ages 7+ years and their families. It is designed and created with children at the heart of the process. We hope the work will create lots of interesting discussions within families and friends and instil a curiosity to find out more about our world of plastics. It is our passion through arts and science to engage and empower young people to believe that their voices and opinions are valued.

So, you also have some workshops lined up – is that right?

Yes, that’s right. We have family workshops in March at Polka that will combine science, art and dance. These workshops will explore our relationship with plastics, by exploring their properties and what makes them so unique through dance and art.

Have you had fun working with the Polka Theatre? And is the show going to be seen anywhere else? 

Polka Theatre has been such a delightful partner organisation to work with, they have a wonderful new theatre space that is perfect for young audiences to feel welcome and parents to feel safe. It is a joy to be making and showing Plastic Drastic Fantastic in a theatre dedicated to young audiences and their families and to engage with their communities and audiences. 

Thanks to Suba for taking the time out of her busy schedule to chat with us.  

Plastic Drastic Fantastic dances into the Polka Theatre from 6 April to 8 May. Further information and bookings here.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 16 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre, but is currently helping at Shakespeare's Globe as a steward and in the archive. She's also having fun being ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry, and being a Super Assessor for the Offies! Mary now insists on being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an award winning MA in London's Theatre and Performance.

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