Dancing through the world of dyslexia

Developed with young audiences in mind, 'Little Murmur' by the UK's Aakash Odedra Company draws on life experiences of dyslexia to centre dance as expression.
'Little Murmur' to tour in Australia. Photo: Angela Grabowska. A young woman lies on the stage with a book in her hand and pages flying in the air.

Dance-theatre performance Little Murmur is a story dedicated to young audiences that highlights dance as a vital mode of expression when letters and words fail.

Little Murmur is presented by UK-based Aakash Odedra Company and The Spark Arts for Children, and draws on company founder Odedra’s life experiences of being diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. It will soon embark on an Australian tour, first at Arts Centre Melbourne, followed by the Sydney Opera House, Darwin Festival and then Adelaide Festival Centre.

Little Murmur is a solo piece choreographed by Odedra in collaboration with South Australian choreographer Lewis Major, and features projections developed by Austria’s Ars Electronica Futurelab, a soundscape supervised by British musician Nitin Sawhney and a blizzard of paper and confetti.

The projections seek to bring stationary objects to life, to reflect the dyslexic experience by visually presenting how information is perceived.

The company’s first dance show dedicated to young audiences, Little Murmur is based on Odedra’s full-length production, Murmur 2.0, which premiered in 2014. In 2021, Murmur 2.0 evolved to include four different dancers who each brought their own piece to the puzzle.

Odedra tells ArtsHub, ‘I think with each show and with each individual dancer, the main narrative shifts and changes according to what they feel in the moment. That’s really beautiful because it’s a story that has sprouted into different versions of what the original was and it’s nice because it’s no longer just my story. Those many stories continue to evolve, shift and change constantly – each show for me is a surprise.’

Odedra was trained in classical Indian dance, Bharatanatyam and Kathak, and when asked how he has built upon that foundational for a contemporary and diverse audience, Odedra says, ‘For me, ultimately. it’s about expression… It’s almost like learning the grammar of something; first, you learn the alphabet and the commas and apostrophes, then eventually when you learn these rules, you create poetry – you use whatever vocabulary that is needed to be able to express and articulate that.

‘So for me, it wasn’t about Kathak; it was more important to be able to articulate as a British Asian, the experiences that I go through and have been through… Classical [dance] has been my base, but contemporary dance is the language [through which] I make my thoughts and feelings accessible to people from around the world.’

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Ultimately, Little Murmur celebrates differences, whether that be cultural, linguistic or intellectual. Throughout the development of this performance, Aakash Odedra Company has also worked with the British Dyslexia Association to demystify how the world appears to those who have dyslexia, and celebrate the joy of seeing things differently.

It’s estimated that around 10% of the British population are dyslexic, with some sources placing the figure higher, considering many individuals are left unidentified or undiagnosed.

Shows like Little Murmur not only bring fun and joy, but can also be a platform for raising awareness and understanding of those who see the world a little differently.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne and was most recently engaged in consultation for the Emerging Writers’ Festival and ArtsGen. Instagram @lleizy_