interview with D’Lo
How do you reconcile your training
in the rigorous Bharatanatyam style with the freewheeling style of hip-hop?
Was it a conscious decision to break away from the classical mode? How
has it helped your artistically?
First off, the training that
I had in Bharathanatyam was at a younger age, though I have “brushed up”
when I’ve incorporated the style into theater/dance pieces. At these
times of “brushing up”, I worked and trained with a phenomenal dancer Gayathri
Arumugham who is based out of New York. It was to my advantage that
Gayathri saw my vision in creating pieces in which hip-hop and BN could
exist on stage together in a strong, non-demeaning manner to either form.
In actuality, I am not a Bharathanatyam dancer, nor will I ever claim to
be - so, there was no thought around a “breaking away from classical mode”.
When creating the pieces, I made sure to stay true to the legacy and history
of BN and in this mode, I studied the beats/rhythm and footwork to create
a link to hip-hop. By creating a story told through dance, I was
given the opportunity to utilize elements of both styles of dance to add
texture to the story: using a dance “battle” (it’s a hip-hop thang, I’ll
get into later) as a form of displaying talent, having (and I feel hesitant
using this term) a “hip-hop conversation” only using abhinaya, and
implementing beatboxing and solkattu as reactions to each other.
Doing all this has helped me artistically
in that both dance forms reflect my cultural backgrounds. I am a
Tamil Sri Lankan- American and Hip-Hop has been my guide through this life.
Because I am proud of who I am and what has made me and because I take
the presentation of art seriously and because I want to make people proud
of what they see, I push myself to research and rehearse so that the majority
audience will walk away in full support of what they have witnessed, rather
than walk away with the feelings of disgust that injustice was done to
any of the art forms/dance styles.
describe your artistic process?
From the writing to the actual
performance aspect of theater, everything needs a space. Most artists
will tell you that when inspiration hits them, is when they create.
Others say they need a space
and ample time to set aside to create.
When we are young and feeling
things new, inspiration is all that’s needed.
Inspiration doesn’t visit as
often as you get older, so you rely on discipline to carry you until Inspiration
takes turns with Discipline, baby-sitting your thoughts and emotions.
Deadlines and audiences who are
not familiar with my work are currently my favorite form of inspiration.
inspire you the most? You describe yourself as ‘truthspeaker’ - could you
elaborate on that?
I can’t think of any themes that
inspire me most. It’s different aspects of life, the everyday things
that my eyes see and the everyday things I imagine that other people see
And as far as calling myself a
“Truthspeaker”- I wasn’t the one who used that term; my manager at the
time had someone do my press stuff. But I feel that everyone is a
truth speaker of their own truths. It’s the universal truth that is reflected
through the artist’s eyes…or maybe I’m biased. J
But to answer the question that
I think you’re getting at, I believe that my role as an artist is to break
silences that have been surrounding us all our lives.
Y’know, my parents don’t exactly
approve of what I do, or what I talk about, or even who I am and how I
conduct myself (don’t get me wrong, I’m not some floozy). But it
is because of the people who come next that I feel like it is my duty as
an artist to talk about the shit that we’ve always been “hush hush” about-
whether it be the injustice that we see through our eyes and feel powerless
to do something about it OR whether it be as simple or complex as being
gay. All those times that we feel depressed about our world and get
even more depressed about having kids because we don’t want to leave them
an even shittier world - yo, I do it for the future. It’s the only thing
that keeps me sane. It’s the only thing that keeps me alive, heart pumping.
If I got anything to do with it,
I don’t wanna let anyone else in my community commit suicide, I don’t wanna
leave it up to Time to decide whether or not someone’s going in the looney
bin. I do what I do because everybody in the world has felt alone
and neglected at some point. I do it because a LOT of people have felt
like a freak in their communities. I do it because I have felt powerless
against the mighty money machines that control everything. And so,
knowing this, I think I speak the “TRUTH” about a whole lotta people’s
lives. This is just my little something to keep me going and to hopefully
keep others going.
tell us about some of your recent work, and the idea behind them?
Well, recently I’ve been writing
around sexuality and gender a lot more. I don’t know how that all
happened, what inspired me, but I think I was just fed up with not seeing
much around these subjects close to what I felt about them. I just
finished a 3 weekend run of my play “Ballin With My Bois” at WOW theater
in NYC and have had 3 producers interested in bringing it back there because
of the overwhelming response and the fact that we sold out almost every
night. So, that tells me that I was right- just like me, people are hungry
for art that pertains to their lives.
Prior to this year, I had mostly
been writing around politics. Politics of war, injustice in the streets
and in the government. I think, as I get older, I’m finding more
and more ways of connecting “ALL PEOPLE’s” Struggles.
As Artists we all have shaded
lenses over what goes on around us in society. Everything ends up being
in our work. So it’s not like I pick something and then write about it.
I think the subject that wants to have light shed on it taps me on the
Jeezus, I’m sounding like a freaking
Hopefully, I won’t start growing
dreadlocks and wearing patchouli oil.
the scope for presenting such works in Sri Lanka?
Well, we’re just going to have
to see to that.
I been trying to juggle a lot
at one time and haven’t been doing a good job at it.
For the past 6 months, the play
has been top priority.
I know that I could go through
certain producers and organizations I know in Sri Lanka to present my work
already, but I want to wait until I have something I KNOW will resonate
with folks. I wouldn’t mind doing a residency over there and creating
pieces that are around and about the communities there.
of your origin as well as lack of funding for the arts, how conducive is
the present situation in USA for artistes like you as compared to before
Funding for the arts was going
to go away anyway. I’m not the biggest conspiracy theorist but there’s
WAY TOO MANY signs out there that tell me that the government thinks art
classes and music shouldn’t be taught in schools. Art and music inspires
people to action, that’s why. You give a kid an instrument, you can
call him a revolutionary. The creativity makes souls soar.
And artists make everyone think
The people in power don’t want
So 9/11, to me, was an “excuse”
to take away even MORE funding.
But these days, the US government
may decide that they need more money for toilet paper and go straight to
the arts funding for that money (instead of washing out their stinky asses
enough art festivals to showcase work like yours? Who comprise your main
There’s many festivals to showcase
my art. Gay/trans festivals, South Asian festivals, Youth festivals, Sri
Lankan festivals, Women festivals, People of Color festivals, Hip-hop theater
festivals etc. My main audience consists of everyone (but I don’t’
see a whole lotta older white men too much).
your first performance in India? What are your feelings about performing
here at The Park’s THE OTHER FESTIVAL?
Yup, first “real” performance
(not taking acting a fool in front of my peers as my “first” J
My feelings about performing
in India are kinda jumbled. Of course, I feel hella honored to be
a part of this festival. I have been waiting for an opportunity like this
for a long time and especially because it feels like the Desh Pardesh festival
that used to occur in Toronto, the Diasporadics Festival that happened
in NYC. I know that the festival was created for cutting edge artists
and art and I’m hella down for that cause. But I also don’t know what I’m
in for, just cuz I don’t know in what way my work will compliment the festival.
I don’t know what the audience
is like. I know that hip-hop has made its way to India, but I also
don’t know how it’s being perceived over there. I want to be an example
of how hip-hop is a lifestyle and not just a “cool” thing to pick up cuz
its mainstream now. I don’t know if the hip-hop stuff is going to
be understood (so I’ll be doing that acapella) and then I don’t know if
me dressing in drag (which for me is dressing as a woman-this particular
piece I will be doing as a South Asian mother) is going to be received
in the same way because it’s about being an immigrant mother in the States…issues
that 2nd generation South Asians have to deal with and stuff that folks
in India don’t go through (but what I’m assuming would be pretty much like
the Indian kids wanting to break out from the roles their own mothers have
set for them). ALSO, I see there’s a lot of dance in the program,
and though I have done dance pieces (fusing hip-hop and Bharatanatyam)
in the past, they have usually consisted of myself and 1 or 2 other people
and I am not able to bring anyone else besides myself to this festival.
And since it will only be me, I want to be able to perform to the best
of my ability, knowing that I will be able to connect with the audience
in the way that God has allowed me to do ALL my life…
But I’m up for this challenge.