Ipswich-based performer Shane Shambhu in national arts showcase

Ipswich-based artist Shane Shambhu is looking to make a big noise at the bi-annual decibel Performing Arts Showcase in Manchester next week with his first full-length production. Entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE caught up with him.

SHANE is exhausted having just finished a show at the Edinburgh Festival.

Release, about ex-prisoners, has gone down well with audiences and critics; winning a Fringe First and getting four star reviews in several papers. But it’s his new work, Leaving Only A Trace, rather than his current role as jobbing actor I’m calling about.

It’s a passionate and revealing story of a young British Asian man who realises the only way to find himself is to leave home.

Billed as an inventive fusion of performing arts old and new, this piece of visual theatre is rooted in South-Indian dance with live music and minimal design aimed at a modern audience.

The Ipswich-based performer takes it to decibel from September 12-16 after a well-received regional tour earlier in the year.

It’s a big deal; the Arts Council England initiative is a major national industry showcase where artists and companies picked to participate representing the cutting edge of music, theatre, dance, live art, circus and street arts from around the country.

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Since 2003, decibel has provided a chance for national and international promoters, producers, programmers, artistic directors and venue managers to see new and developing work, to book acts and to build relationships with artists and companies.

This includes artists from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, Deaf and disabled people or any other artist who may have had limited opportunities to participate in the arts.

“I’m excited to be chosen to showcase at decibel. After working in the performing arts for several years and developing my first-full-length production, the opportunity to perform to industry professionals is a great validation of my efforts,” said the 34-year-old

“I’m ecstatic to have the chance to discuss and debate with other industry professionals about the future of both my work and the future of the arts - this will be a chance to make my voice be heard.”

Making himself heard wasn’t always so easy.

Brought up in London, the Indian classically trained dancer didn’t study performing until later in life; his parents preferring he get a “proper job”.

“I wanted to do my A-levels and degree in performing arts but my parents were really adamant I did not go down that route. At that age, sort of 16-17, there’s a sort of unsaid fear with parents, especially within Asian families.

“I thought I was always forced to do an academic course as it was rather than a performing arts course.”

After studying various subjects he got a job as a marketing manager. Aged 24 he quit to join the Shopana Jeyasingh dance company and get some contemporary dance experience. He stayed for four-and-a-half years.

The main stimulus for Leaving Only A Trace - which features two musicians and him performing - came after a relationship break-up.

“I realised that in order to move forward from that place and get on with your life you needed to accept the past and what had happened. That was the sort of premise I wanted to focus on, letting go which we all have to do in different aspects of our life. Leaving home, death of beloveds, any situation where we all have to softy close the doors on the past I suppose.”

That was just a springboard though, the main message being humans are made up of memories we can’t abandon; they make us who we are whether good or bad.

Leaving looks at the situation of a character as he’s packing up his belongings to move home; within that he discovers various memories which he then sees through the narrative elements of the Indian dance form but in a contemporary, organic, emotionally triggered way.

While the narrative isn’t directly autobiographical, it comes from a place he understands and the emotions that arise through the work are related to experiences he’s had.

As a British Asian man himself, does he feel it’s important to share those experiences?

“Yes, there’s an element of sharing and I suppose I understand it because what’s really difficult to explain, which we can do in theatre, is that essentially I’m brought up in two different cultures but I belong to both of them equally. That combination where cultures meet is, I suppose, what I’m really addressing with these ideas of memory.”

Shane’s created a smaller, 20-minute sole before. But, he says, it’s very hard to programme a piece of work so short because no one’s going to come to see it unless it’s part of a larger show.

Developing the new show, clocking in at just over an hour, and taking it on tour was made possible last year after he received �22,000 of National Lottery funds through Arts Council’s Grants for the arts funding programme. He also raised close to �17,000 in kind support himself - including studio space and time at DanceEast.

Grants for the arts awards are for activities carried out over a set period which engage people in England in arts activities and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work.

It wasn’t an easy process.

“There is [a lot of competition], it’s a big risk. I invested some time in research and development, I had nuggets of material I knew I wanted to take forward. Then I did a lot of contacting various organisations, trying to raise other kinds of private funds and in kind support.

“All of that with the application I suppose made it quite strong. I had regional partners and I was really certain that I wanted to make this piece.”

The decision to apply for decibel came after he realised he felt ready to launch his career as a creator as opposed to a performer with other companies.

“I just put in the application, being as honest as I could about the work and what it represented and how I wanted to take it forward. I’m extremely excited to be taking part, I think it will give the exposure I need in this stage of my career.”

Depending on the outcome of decibel he’s hoping to take the show national, even international. He hopes to bring it back to Ipswich.

Even now, he’s still tweaking the show.

“I think that’s a constant process. I keep working on it from each venue to each venue; there’s always something to work on even if it’s the smallest thing like that box should be over here a little bit more because it makes more sense. You can only improve a piece of work so I don’t believe in just leaving it alone.”

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