Positively Q: An Interview with MAC Associate Artists Jaivant Patel & Johnny Autin

Fri 1 May 2020
Promotional image for Positively Q, edited by Nucis Designs from original images taken by Kate Green

Today (Friday 1 May 2020) would have marked the unique bringing together of Jaivant Patel Dance and Autin Dance Theatre in Positively Q, a mesmerising triple bill celebrating Jaivant and Johnny as MAC's Associate Artists. The success of recent solo works that have toured nationally and that were developed while in residencies at MAC, were also supported by other key partners including Arts Council England.

As dance-makers, both Jaivant and Johnny are inspired by their personal experiences and identities as diverse queer artists; creating work reflecting the often underrepresented narratives of the global LGBTQ+ community. 

Positively Q would have platformed an extract of YAATRA entitled Awakening (Jaivant Patel Dance) and Square One (Autin Dance Theatre). The evening would have ended with a special duet (work-in-progress), bringing together Jaivant and Johnny in collaboration following a short R&D process.

Sadly, due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the evening can not take place as per UK government guidelines. However, in the spirit of looking forward to a brighter future and the positivity in important representation their collaboration would bring, both Jaivant and Johnny wanted to release the promotional image for the evening.

We spoke to both artists in an exclusive interview...

1. Positively Q is an event that would have explored your experiences and identities as diverse queer artists. Why is it important to you to shed light on under-represented narratives of the global LGBTQ+ community through your practice? Is this something you have done throughout your careers?

Johnny: I think it’s the first time with Square One that the work is so bluntly personal and autobiographical. I usually draw on contemporary social issues and events to make crafted, accessible and relevant dance works (for example, Taksim Square was about the Arab Springs, Out of the Deep Blue is inspired by the themes of climate change and the biodiversity crisis). 

With Square One, I wanted to explore my own internal journeys and share them creatively with an audience. In my opinion, we are all complex, layered, messed-up and rich people, so it’s important to be honest and authentic with the parts that make us who we are. In this context, representation and visibility is crucial if we believe in equality and justice. 

I have talked in the past about the fact that I have been living with HIV since 2011 and have since been an avid advocate for sex positivity and effective sex education in youth, community and educational settings. With this new solo work, I am exploring more my own sense of identity as a queer artist, I question our perception of masculinity and shed a light on lived experiences of mental health issues and emotional traumas.

AutinDT is an equal opportunity arts organisation. We have always actively worked and engaged with under-represented communities in the creative and cultural sector including young people, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ and people living with disabilities.

Deborah Kermode with MAC Associate Artists Jaivant Patel (left) and Johnny Autin (right), image by Deniz Soezen

Jaivant: I have always embraced being part of the LGBTQ+ community in every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. As I have navigated and matured as an artist in both my career and creative practice, I had began to notice an evident lack of representation of myself as a diverse queer artist and narratives that belong to the South Asian LGBTQ+ community in performance spaces. This was something which I wanted to change. Coincidently, it was around the same time that I wanted to create, tour and develop my first solo production using South Asian LGBTQ+ narratives and my personal experience as a queer British-Indian with faith. It was then that YAATRA was born.

I wanted to contribute towards changing this because I felt it was important. The voice of the South Asian LGBTQ+ community, and its stories especially, are rarely told in productions that tour and reach out to the vibrant diverse communities that make up contemporary society in the UK. For me, YAATRA is about empowering other South Asian LGBTQ+ artists to tell their stories by creating and touring their own work; especially the future generation of creatives. YAATRA is also about educating, challenging stigmas and stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ+ identity, as well as liberating ourselves in embracing who we are and want to be.

2. The performance would have included an extract from YAATRA - Awakening, and Square One. Can you tell us a little about what audiences could have expected from these pieces?

Johnny: Square One is a 25-minute long production that blends performance arts and traditional dance theatre/physical theatre practices.

I have long been fascinated by mental health and emotional wellbeing. For this new work, I delved into my own personal journeys through mental, physical and spiritual changes, and our increasing need for higher levels of consciousness. Square One is a bold and original solo performance featuring a series of captivating movements and patterns, striking lighting visuals and a hypnotising score. I explore the the poetry of connections between our internal and external worlds, and how they affect the very act of movement.

Johnny Autin performing Square One (in progress), image by Nucis Designs

Jaivant: YAATRA is a bill of Kathak and Contemporary dance exploring the rich possibilities rooted in South Asian LGBTQ+ narratives, of which Awakening is the first piece. The overarching interrogation of the piece is rooted in asking 'what does dance look like through the disruptive perspective of a South Asian queer lens?' 

Awakening explores the gender fluidity and gender binaries present within the iconography of Indian mythology. Growing up, I remember seeing representations of gender fluid, intersex and binary narratives within my Indian faith and cultural heritage, that I was able to connect and identify with in the understanding of my own sexuality. In parallel, these same representations weren’t acceptable, nor did they exist for me within the context of contemporary society. 

Awakening uses the Kathak form to revisit my personal heritage and examines my present relationship with being a homosexual man with faith.

The audience would have seen an beautiful set of temple bells hanging across the stage as I navigated and filled the space; exploring the nuances of the Indian classical form of Kathak in relation to subverting inherited notions of what it means to be a queer British-Indian. 

3. As MAC Associate Artists, Positively Q aimed to bring two successful solo artists together in a mesmerising performance, including special duet would have ended the event. How have you found working together to create Positively Q, and combining your unique styles? Why is this kind of collaboration important?

Jaivant: I found myself very fortunate when Deborah Kermode invited me to be an Associate Artist. I was equally excited when I knew that Johnny Autin too was to also become an Associate Artist, due to our own conversations about the LGBTQ+ solo work we were intending to create. Given our shared experiences and passion about getting more work out onto the touring network around our identities as LGBTQ+ queer artists, it just made sense to come together for an evening and share the work that has been developed in residences at MAC. 

Working together with Johnny on Positively Q in putting the evening together has been a great experience. Sadly, we weren't able to complete our rehearsal process of a duet, but have been sharing and talking through ideas around our collaboration. This kind of collaboration between regional artists is important to me, due to the empowerment that brings it brings to us, and others who see the positivity of two artists celebrating their queerness in harmony - despite their diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. It is also rare for two queer artists from the same region, who are Associate Artists at the same venue, to be curated in one evening of work with a new collaboration.

Jaivant Patel performing YAATRA on tour, image by Matthew Cawrey Photography

4. Now that, due to lockdown, you are unable to physically work together in the same space, how have you found other ways to collaborate and share ideas as dance practitioners?

Johnny: The arts and cultural sector is probably the one that has been and will be the most affected by the current Covid-19 crisis. It will take months for us to be able to access theatres' stages and festivals' platforms. That said, I also believe that creative practitioners, producers and arts managers in the UK are amongst the most resilient and courageous professionals that I have ever encountered. Already we can all see the home-based collaborative residencies being developed and the wealth of digital online offers that is being put out there.

Jaivant and I are adapting our creative process and audience engagement plans through online distribution and digital arts opportunities.

Jaivant: Both Johnny and I have become much closer, both as friends and fellow peers. During this lockdown, I feel we have supported each other more in terms of adjusting to different ways for working, social distancing and how we we potentially sustain ourselves as artists in the current environment.

We are still talking about Positively Q, and sharing ideas around the shape of our duet - and we will continue to do so. We both agreed it was a good idea to share the promotional image of the evening designed by Nuis Designs from original amazing images taken of us by Kate Green as a teaser of what is still to come. We are both confident we will get an opportunity to perform together in Positively Q in the near future, so watch this space!

Jaivant Patel and Johnny Autin would like to recognise and thank Deborah Kermode and the team at MAC for their continuous support.

For more information and to be kept updated on the progress of Jaivant and Johnny's projects:

Sign up for the Autin Dance Theatre Newsletter and follow @autindt on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Head to the Jaivant Patel Dance Website and follow @jaipdc Twitter and Instagram, and @JaivantPatelDance on Facebook