Broken seeds still grow: A jugalbandi between a painter and dancer

Sonia Dhami-

Broken seeds still grow – a multi-disciplinary dance and visual arts show, co-created by Nadhi Thekkek and Rupy C Tut is a sensory delight.

Performed at the Livermore Valley Arts – Bankhead summer series, I intermingled with a diverse audience in eager anticipation to see how two hard to imagine together components/partners can come together to create this enthralling sensory mix of the visual and audio, traditional and modern, north and south, painter and dancer.

The idea in itself is far-fetched in our externally programmed ways of thinking. The 1947 Partition of India mainly affected the people in the north and eastern parts of India. So why would a first-generation Indian-American immigrant trained in the southern Indian dance form of the Bharatnatyam be interested in this story. How possibly can she do justice to an event that has traumatized millions of Indians till today? The answer lies with the younger generations exploring new ways of connecting our past to our present – a new form of Jugalbandi.

Born out of a collaboration between Nadhi, a dancer, and Rupy a visual artist, and a shared passion for telling our stories – Broken seeds still grow, is a symphony of dance, paintings, music, calligraphy, music, song, prose and poetry. Rupy’s empathetic narration is accompanied by her stunning visuals, which provide the perfect context to the mesmerizing and energetic dance performances by Nadhi and her team.

Partition was one of the most formative events in South Asia’s recent history, creating over 15 million refugees and leaving over one million people dead. Nadhi and Rupy have sourced eyewitness accounts from Partition collected by collaborating organization, the 1947 Partition Archive (Berkeley, CA) and researched the current South Asian immigrant experience to understand how the feeling of displacement continues to shape identities today.

The show opens with an evocative performance by Nadhi celebrating the joy of “HOME” against a backdrop of projected images of Rupy’s paintings of a small hut set amidst a verdant landscape rendered in the Pahari style of Indian painting. The foreboding of darker times is casts an ominous shadow leading to the arrival of Sir Cyril Radcliff who has been entrusted the untenable task of dividing the nation into 2 parts since the people have  “incompatible Gods” and cannot live alongside anymore, despite having done so for centuries. Solely ill-equipped to do justice to this calamitous deed, his decree leaves a million people dead in its wake with a displacement of 10 million. The energetic dance sequences accompanied by evocative paintings employ song, prose and poetry to create the contextual frame carrying the audiences through this journey filled with violence, loss and despair.

Narrated through the voices of women and portrayed by women dancers adds a powerful appeal to the show. The weight of the burdens of displacement that women carry with them is poignantly conveyed through a beautiful painting by Rupy and projected with mastery on the screen. The accompanying songs in the show are in a mix of languages adding an interesting element to the mix.

Selections from Amrita Preetam’s poignant poem “Aj Akhan Waris Shah nu” sung to live music has a lingering impact on the audience.  The narration poses questions about the savage acts performed by people and their impact on their normalized lives years after.

While the partition and its impact are explored in the show, it goes even beyond by making heart-wrenching connections with the contemporary hyphenated-American immigrant experiences of today. Kindness is smothered by rising conflict and intolerance in American life.

The heavy and somber mood is lifted to reveal a feeling of optimism and hope.

The show ends on a joyous note and the audience leaves hopeful with renewed faith in humanity. Personally, my trust and faith in the power of the arts to reach across the barriers of language, race, religion and region and bring people together to promote understanding and tolerance is reinforced.



Creators/Directors: Nadhi Thekkek and Rupy C. Tut
Choreography: Nadhi Thekkek
Traditional Indian Painting/Calligraphy/Animation: Rupy C. Tut
Music Composition/Orchestration/Flautist: G. S. Rajan
Visual Art Projection: Darl Andrew Packard and Wolfgang Wachalovsky
Video and Editing: Kat Cole
Dancer Collaborators: Nadhi Thekkek, Shruti Abhishek, Vertika Srivastava, Lalli Venkat, Aishwarya Subramaniam, Priyanka Raghuraman, Janani Muthaiya
Musician Collaborators: Sindhu Natarajan, Chris Evans, GS Rajan,
Costume Design: Christopher Gurusamy
Costume Tailoring: Aahaaryaa Tailors (Chennai)
Created with support from: California Arts Council, East Bay Community Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Dancers’ Group CA$H Grants, City of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program, ACT Artshare Residency