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  • Writer's pictureSanjay Saverimuttu

Why I Make Art (as of 2018).

Updated: Jan 1, 2019

My voice is its loudest when I’m creating choreography and theatre. I can attend political rallies and support causes that I’m passionate about, but I’m not necessarily the leader or organizer in these contexts. The limitless potential of art is what compels me to this medium. The power of art is its ability to unexpectedly color the opinions and perspectives of its audience. Art can recontextualize difficult themes and provide a more accessible lens. It can also do the opposite, by taking simple ideas and adding depths of complexity and nuance. I am an artist and choreography is my chosen medium for creating a vision that moves audiences towards action. It’s my opportunity to show the world aspects of my personal identity and political activism.

In rehearsal with dancers for my work, Spring (2016). Photo by Sam English.

I am a queer Sri Lankan American, and my everyday life has centered on shattering preconceived notions about myself. I seek to do the same within dance. American ballet has yet to reflect modern society. It’s why I explore subverting gender expectations, because the current art form is codified and caters to specific gender norms and roles. In my work, I introduce cultural elements and stories from a first generation perspective, because American ballet shouldn’t solely represent Western narratives. Most importantly, I’m not afraid to create queer relationships on stage, because American ballet should be supportive of queer stories and histories in the public eye not just behind the scenes. Ballet today should be about more than reaching the unattainable perfection of a European body line or telling stories of the white-cis-hetero-patriarchy. My work is an example of what the art form could and should be.

When I attended Stanford University, I was exposed to the manner in which the academic world received and analyzed art. I was exposed to an institution that was focused more on meaning than technique. I was encouraged to embrace the cerebral and for a moment put the skill and precision aside. This added a depth to my work that has been able to embrace both the cerebral and the technical artistry to deliver a product that allows audiences to have multiple takeaways. Working with non-trained dancers in this environment, helped open my eyes to varied forms of expression and understand that classical training is not a pre-requisite to high art.

Audience members may not be able to pinpoint some of the nuances of the work I create but they are consistently able to express an emotional takeaway. I’ve created works surrounding deep and complex themes such as climate change, toxic masculinity, immigration, mental health, and queer relationships, and it could be very easy for audiences to get lost in these issues. What I’m able to successfully do is create a sense of authenticity by dealing with issues that I’ve personally experienced or have extensively researched. This allows me to focus and develop an emotional arc, which will ultimately dictate and serve as the base for the progression of the performance.

Success as a choreographer in a ballet/contemporary world has typically meant that one has to be white and/or come from a pedigree of working for one of the top companies in the world (if you are their lead dancer, more power to you). My background is far from that, but my experience allows me to create works that offer more depth and relevance than what is seen on the best stages in the world. Living in a smaller city allows me to be more connected with the community and understand the kind of art that is going to be more valuable to them. It gives me more freedom to play with the art form and introduce new cultural elements and stories. Everything in my dance career hasn't been handed to me. I’m not a legendary dancer prodigy. I’ve had to work extremely hard to make a career even possible. That experience sets me apart from most of the leading choreographers in the world. I’m here to showcase that artistic voice.

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