Artist Hetain Patel is debuting his new show “Be Like Water” this month, which explores the complexities of cultural identity through dance theatre, personal monologue, and his love of kung fu and popular culture spiced with a bit of wit.
“Be Like Water” draws from Patel’s childhood fantasies stemming from his love of fictional superheroes like Spiderman and Bruce Lee and re-created scenes from martial arts movies. There’s an element of fantasy versus reality, and how one identifies with culture in Patel’s work. Fellow performer Yuyu Rau acts as a translator and an avatar for Patel’s fantasies, in which the duo imitate their heroes and re-enact fight scenes from their favorite movies. Patel wrote the monologues and choreographed the dance sequences, which combine movements from everyday life and Kung Fu with film footage from his visual arts practice.
Patel’s work has been shown internationally in China, India, America, Sweden, and in the UK. He was the Artist-in-Residence at this year’s Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival and showed works at Frieze Art Fair in the autumn, as well as the Dance Umbrella Festival.
ARTINFO UK had the chance to catch up with Patel via email and ask him a few questions about the show, childhood influences, and the importance of skinny guys who beat up the bad guys.
Your work draws a lot from your childhood, who were your influences and why?
I watched a lot of TV and was (still am) a comic book fan. In particular I loved Bruce Lee and Spider-Man. I was quite a nerdy kid and experienced some bullying for a number of reasons so these figures became fantasy role models for me. Skinny guys who beat up bad guys in style! Also I watched a lot of early Eddie Murphy films. There was no “Goodness Gracious Me” then so this was the closest thing to reflecting a cultural minority struggle we had – and again delivered in style – this was probably also where my love of comedy came from too actually.
You incorporate a lot of pop cultural references into your work, do you think pop culture says about our society? Is it a reflection or a deflection?
It’s probably both. It can be seen as a reflection or a method to brainwash. I suppose my interest in it is that for better or worse it is something consumed by masses of people, and because of this becomes a medium for some level of collective experience. As someone fascinated with language and communication this is something I’m hugely interested in.
There is an element of martial arts in your work, what are the parallels between martial artistry and dance? Is it a physical vocabulary or is there more?
Bruce Lee describes Kung Fu as his way of expressing himself as honestly as he possibly can- totally and completely. That this is his aim but it is very hard to do. At the heart of it I think this is what dance is too – the dance that I’m in to anyway! Physical vocabularies in both Kung Fu and dance feel more to me like the surface of what they are. I think both require discipline and practice to achieve honest expression.
What's the importance of incorporating film and video into your work?
I’ve grown up watching so much of it that it is only natural that it would be one of the ways for me to say something too. They are two of many languages that I use to communicate. Others include performance, sculpture, animation, photography and writing. Each of these media have different capabilities and offer different ways to say things. Film and video offer me the composition of a frame around a body, references to lots of other things that have been seen on TV and cinema screens, and of course can be watched in loop in the viewers own time without the artist present.
What are your upcoming projects?
On 27th and 28th November I’m premiering my new theatre piece “Be Like Water” at the Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio Theatre) in London. I’ve been working on this for two years so am excited to be able to share the finished piece. And inspired by Bruce Lee, it’s also his and my birthday. Touring nationally in parallel with this show next year is my new solo exhibition of photography and video works, which include footage and imagery of my family members and wife. On top of this we begin an international tour of my first theatre piece “TEN” in February, and start work on a new commission for a comedy show. Obviously before all of this is hopefully a long break over Christmas!
“Be Like Water”, November 27 – 28, at Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, WC2E 9DD