Divija Melally & Saili Katebe on new work Six Degrees from Home

Last year Dancin’ Oxford and Pegasus Theatre announced their Moving with the Times commissions. These were awarded to Divija Melally and Saili Katebe; Anjali Dance Company; and Kavya Iyer Ramalingam.

The Moving with the Times commission is one of the few in the UK that is awarded to early career artists. Dancin’ Oxford has been awarding these commissions since 2015 where many of the commissionees have gone on to join or collaborators with artists including Richard Chappell Dance, Justice in Motion and Body Politic.

We sat down with Divija Melally and Saili Katebe to chat about their collaboration Six Degrees from Home which will be performed this weekend at the Pegasus Theatre.

DAJ: Could you tell us about yourself? 

Divija: am a contemporary and Indian Classical (Bharatanatyam) dancer based in Bristol. I started my dance training in Bangalore, India. I moved to the UK in 2019, studied at Bath Spa University, and have been working as a freelance movement artist since graduation. My creative practice revolves around combining the movement languages of contemporary and Bharatanatyam. I work as a performer with different companies, along with making my own work and teaching.

Saili: My biography says I’m a writer, performance and workshop facilitator. I believe I am a story teller. Writing has been my way of expressing and I’ve learned to appreciate how art tells stories about what it means to be alive on this spinning ball we call a planet. I love doing hard things with people I trust, be it unpacking a big question or playing sport.

DAJ: Could you tell us about the work you’re presenting at Moving With The Times. What can the Oxford community expect? 

Divija: Six Degrees from Home is a collaboration between me and Saili, where we explore the ideas of borders and connection through movement and spoken word. For me, the work is about looking past the differences that we have created in society, and embracing what we have in common: that we are all human. We hope that the audience can resonate with aspects of the work, and connect to or take something away with them.

Saili: We are playing with the ideas of borders, geographically, personally and between art forms. The Oxford community can expect curiosity in action in what I believe is an engaging piece of work.

DAJ: What have been the highlights of working on this commission?

Divija: I received the commission last year as well to create a solo, and it has been a very rewarding experience. The support from Pegasus Theatre and Dancin’ Oxford is really generous. As emerging artists, it is hard to find the means, motivation and support to start making our own work. The commission propelled me in my creative career, which has now led to this amazing collaboration with Saili. We also received funding from Arts Council England to further support making ‘Six Degrees from Home’, and the MWTT commission played a huge part in that.

Saili: Spending time in the rehearsal room with Divija. Understanding the questions and collaboratively understanding how we can both step into those unknown spaces together.

DAJ: What are the biggest challenges you face as an artist? 

Divija: As a freelance artist, the biggest challenge is finding stability and secure sources of income. It’s tricky to not know what your calendar will look like from one month to the next, and sickness or injury can throw a major spanner in the works.

Having said that, when projects do happen, it is the most rewarding experience, and I feel very lucky and privileged to be pursuing my creative interests as a career.

Saili: It feels as though there will never be enough time for all the questions and development. Access to space and support to make work that serves the audience feels like an ever present challenge. The moving the times commission has been a great form of support.

DAJ: What’s next for you? 

Divija: I hope to continue performing, and develop Six Degrees from Home further with Saili. I also would love to connect more with the community, especially the communities from the Global majority in the UK, and find opportunities to teach or work with people of different ages, needs and abilities.

Saili: I am looking to keep challenging myself as a writer, I’ve been encouraged to move more and I am looking for more ways to sharpen that skills set and remain curious about the questions that catch my attention.

Catch Six Degrees from Home at this year’s Spring Dance Festival: Moving with the Times on 8-9 March. Book here. Header image: Francis Fitzgerald.