PETTEE the performance blurs the lines between stage and audience, open air and theater

PETTEE means living, leaving.

PETTEE means real and surreal stories.

PETTEE means move, sing, fly.

In languages that are home to hundreds of millions of people (Malayalam, Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi…) the word pettee is so much more: casket, crate, suitcase. But the meaning that almost everyone recognizes instantly is container. Containers we carry. Containers that contain us.

PETTEE could also mean spirit animal, for those with rootlessness and displacement in our blood, with flight in our dreams.

Plotting to make that dream of weightlessness real are writers Deepak Unnikrishnan and Karthika Naïr, composer Sarathy Korwar and his musicians, set and lighting designer Willy Cessa, joined by three choreographers/performers – Wanjiru Kamuyu, Saju Hari, Ali Ben Lotfi Thabet – and illustrator Appupen (George Mathen) and rigger Simon Nyiringabo.

Dancers and fabricated landscape will lead the audience into an immersive world of movement and music and flight, where bodies unbend, lunge and soar, to unseal and unpack years of youth, where multiple futures, each magical, seemed possible.

Dedicated to Fareed Majari.

The performance on Apr 18th is followed by a post show Q&A with the artists, moderated by George Jose, Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at NYU Abu Dhabi.

See the Program:

See the Trailer:


Deepak Unnikrishnan

Deepak Unnikrishnan is a writer from Abu Dhabi and associate professor at New York University Abu Dhabi. His book Temporary People, a work of fiction about Gulf narratives steeped in Malayalee and South Asian lingo, won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, the Hindu Prize and the Moore Prize. It was also shortlisted for the Believer Book Award, the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, the Crossword Book Award and appeared on the long list for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the International Dublin Literary Award.The French edition, A Titre Provisoire, has been shortlisted for the 2023 Prix Littéraire Frontières, awarded by Université de Lorraine and its partners from Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg. The Malayalam edition, titled Temborary Peoples, translated by novelist Benyamin and illustrated by graphic novelist Appupen, was published in February 2024.

Unnikrishnan’s fiction was commissioned for the written publications of the National Pavilion of the UAE at the Venice Biennale (2017) and the Oslo Architecture Triennale (2019). His voice and work can be heard on musician Sarathy Korwar’s album ‘More Arriving’, and a stage adaptation of Temporary People – directed by Laila Soliman in collaboration with choreographer Faustin Linyekula – premiered in November 2022 at The Arts Center, NYUAD, Abu Dhabi.

His essays and fiction have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, The Common, Guernica, Drunken Boat, The State Vol IV: Dubai and Himal Southasian, The Penguin Book of Migration Literature (Penguin Classics, 2019) and Building Sharjah (De Gruyter, 2021), among others and he frequently collaborates with artists and scholars across disciplines. He has been a writer in residence at Sangam House, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and Brown University, and was a Margaret Bridgman Fellow in Fiction at Bread Loaf. He currently teaches at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Karthika Naïr

Karthika Naïr is a French-Indian poet, playwright, fabulist and dance scenarist. Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata, her reworking of the foundational South Asian epic in multiple voices, won the 2015 Tata Literature Live Award for Book of the Year (India), and was highly commended at the 2016 Forward Prizes (UK). Les Oiseaux électriques de Pothakudi (Éditions Hélium/Actes-Sud, 2022) – her latest children’s book illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet – won the 2023 Prix Felipé for “ecological children’s literature”, and was shortlisted for the 2023 Prix Franco-Allemand de la littérature de jeunesse.

Naïr’s poetry has been widely published in anthologies and journals like Granta, Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetry Magazine, The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets and the Forward Book of Poetry 2017. She has been commissioned to write poetry by international art institutions including the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. She is a 2012 Sangam House Fellow, a 2013 Toji Foundation Fellow, and was awarded a Villa Marguerite Yourcenar Fellowship in 2015.

Karthika Naïr’s play Beneath the Music, created and directed by Jay Emmanuel for Encounter Theatre, premiered atSubiaco Arts Centre in Perth in May 2023. The dance performances she has scripted and co-scripted include Akram Khan’s multiple-award-winning DESH, and Until the Lions (adapted from a chapter of her eponymous book), as well as Carlos Pons Guerra’s Mariposa, a radical reimagining of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. An opera adaptation of Until the Lions, composed by Thierry Pécou and directed by Shobana Jeyasingh, premiered at Opéra national du Rhin (Strasbourg) in September 2022. She scripted the bespoke spoken-word segments of Babel 7.16, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet site-responsive version for the Cour d’Honneur of the Palais des Papes at the 2016 Avignon Festival.

Naïr is the co-founder of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Antwerp-based dance company, Eastman, and executive producer of several of his and Damien Jalet’s works ( Les Médusés, Puz/zle, Babel (Words) …).

Sarathy Korwar

Sarathy Korwar is a drummer, composer and producer raised in India and based in London. Korwar has established himself as one of the most original and compelling voices in the UK jazz scene. His music fuses jazz, electronics, Indian folk and classical influences with a focus on decoloniality, community, race and transcendence.

Korwar’s daring debut album, Day To Day, recorded with the support of the Steve Reid Foundation, was released by Ninja Tune in 2016. In November 2018, Gearbox Records released a triple vinyl live album by Sarathy Korwar and UPAJ Collective. My East Is Your West, performed and recorded at a sold-out Church of Sound show, is a brilliant and unique blend of London’s new jazz talent with Indian classical instrumentation. A critically-acclaimed take on the cultural appropriation of ‘spiritual’ Indo-jazz, the three-hour show was recorded following a single 45-minute rehearsal. The resulting album was awarded The Guardian’s Contemporary Album of the Month.

His latest album, KALAK, is an Indo-futurist manifesto that celebrates a rich South Asian culture of music and literature and urges a cure for historical amnesia. The Guardian placed it at #2 in their Best Global Albums of 2022. In 2023, KALAK won the Songlines award for best album (Asia/Pacific).

Korwar has toured and collaborated with the likes of Anoushka Shankar, Kamasi Washington, Metropole Orchestra and Shabaka Hutchings and performed at festivals including North Sea Jazz Festival, London Jazz Festival, Winter Jazz New York, Dekmantel and many more. His music has been featured in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Quietus, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone along with support from NPR, KEXP, BBC Radio 1, Radio 3 and 6 Music.

Willy Cessa

Willy Cessa was born in 1975 in France, where he first studied music, then light design during 2 years. Since 2001 he has worked as a director, light director and light designer with various artists and institutions, such as le Centre Dramatique Régional des Pays de la Loire, Herman Diephuis, Cie Les Aphoristes, Cie KLP, Esther Aumatell, Fanny de Chaillé, Danse l’Afrique danse!, Franck II Louise and Damien Jalet.

In 2007 he met Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui at the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris (the museum dedicated to the history of immigration) and designed the lighting for the 3-day site-responsive work Interconnexion, which was France’s official event to mark the end of the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue. Cessa is the brains behind the highly inventive, astounding visual worlds in several of Cherkaoui’s pieces, such as Constellation, Firebird, TeZukA and the full-length iteration of Nomad, as well as the lighting for Damien Jalet’s Les Médusés at the Louvre in Paris, among others. Willy has also designed lights for Wang/Ramirez’s PARTS.

George Mathen aka APPUPEN

George Mathen, better known by his pseudonym, “Appupen (loosely translated from Malayalam as grandfather), is a Bangalore-based comic creator, visual artist and musician. His work is known for its skewed world views and sarcastic bite.

Appupen’s 2023 graphic novel ‘Dream Machine’ about AI, with Laurent Daudet, is being published in French, English and German. His first graphic novel, ‘Moonward’, was published by Blaft in 2009, and was selected for the 2011 Angoulême festival. It was the first of his comics set in the mythical fantasy world of Halahala, and was followed by the silent graphic novel ‘Legends of Halahala’ (HarperCollins, 2013), the extensive ‘Aspyrus’ (HarperCollins, 2014) and the super hero satire series ‘Rashtraman’, featuring the eponymous saffron-caped superhero he created in 2016, with a beefy sidekick, Cow Boy, who works alongside his friends Buffalo Bull and Gau Raakshas (a demon god with underworld links). The self-published graphic novel is set in the Year of the Cow, in a country where Go-Moo-Tra is the No.1 selling drink.

Appupen is also the founder/editor of Brainded India, a collective of graphic artists. His work has been regularly featured in various magazines like Tehelka, Rolling Stone India, Time Out, Elle, Indian Quarterly, Mid-Day and Animation Reporter and various anthologies on sequential graphic art. His work has also been shown in Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2014, Gallery SKE and Gallery 545, Bangalore. He was artist in residence at the Cité international de la bande dessinée et de l’image in Angoulême from April to October 2021.

He is currently working on a graphic book with Tamil author Perumal Murugan.

Ali Thabet

Ali Thabet’s initiation into movement arts came through kung fu. Despite a longstanding affinity with dance, he joined the National Centre for Circus Arts in Châlons (France) in 1997. He performed in Francis Viet’s Furie (2001) but got his first major breakthrough in 2002 with Cyrk 13, a piece choreographed by Philippe Découflé with whom he has since collaborated on several other projects. He was part of Josef Nadj’s Il n’y a plus de firmament (2003) where he got the opportunity to work with artists like Jean Babilé and Ioshi Oïda.

Ali Thabet met Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in 2004 and joined the cast of Tempus Fugit as a performer. In 2008 he joined Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra assistant choreographer and performer and worked with him on TeZukA in 2011 as assistant choreographer. In 2005, he appeared in Einat Tuchman’s Ho Boy and then teamed up with Nicolas Vladyslav to make and dance the duo Transporté. He has also been assistant director to Mathurin Bolze and Hèdi Thabet on the eponymous Ali. In 2022-23, he joined the cast of the film « Backstage » by Afef Ben Mahmoud and Khalil Benkirane.

With his brother and fellow acrobat, Ali co-directed and co-choreographed the highly acclaimed Rayahzone (2011), followed by Nous sommes pareils à ces crapauds…, En attendant les barbares (2015) and ‘uwrubba (2021), all imbued with their multidisciplinary, multicultural approach to art, works that seamlessly blend dance, acrobatics, live music and theatre, and firmly anchored in the complex, current world we live in.

Saju Hari

Indian born UK based dance artist Saju Hari’s starting point in dance was the South Indian martial art Kalarippayattu. After finishing his Electronics Engineering studies in India Saju pursued his passion for dance, creating and performing based in the city of Bangalore at the Attakkalari centre for movement arts. During this period he performed all over India as well as starting to create his own work.

Since moving to London in 2003, Saju collaborated with several artists including Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, Fabulous Beasts Dance Theater, Akram Khan Dance Company, Sasha Waltz and Guests. Currently Saju works with the physical theatre company Gecko touring the National Theatre UK production KIN as well as much acclaimed production Wedding.

Parallel to performing, Saju has been choreographing commissioned work for several institutions and companies including site specific choreographies for Palace Acropolis theatre (Prague), Luftschloss Cobenzl castle (Vienna) and choreographic works commissioned by the Royal Opera House London’s ROH2, South Bank Centre(Dare Devas) and for the Place Theatre London. In 2016 Saju created ‘Breaking Joint and in 2022 The Body Recall both funded by the Arts Council England. Saju has appeared in the dance adaptation of the film A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, directed by Jacqui Morris and choreographed by Russel Maliphant.

Enjoying a variety of roles in the field of contemporary dance Saju was a dramaturg and mentor for the ‘Out of the system’ programme, part of the Dance Umbrella Festival 2019 in London as well as in 2023 for Theo TJ Lowe for his new production. He has also Saju taught masterclasses and intensives for several dance companies and educational institutions as well as festivals including the prestigious ImpulseTanz workshop festival in Vienna.

Wanjiru Kamuyu

Wanjiru Kamuyu, native Kenyan based in Paris, France, is associate artist with Theater L’Onde (Vélizy, France) and a Live Feed artist with New York Live Arts (USA). Her career began with its genesis in New York City. As a performer she has worked with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Bill T. Jones, Molissa Fenley, Anita Gonzales, Okwui Okpokwasili, Nathan Trice, Dean Moss, Tania Isaac… and in Europe with choreographers Robyn Orlin, Emmanuel Eggermont, Nathalie Pubellier, Irène Tassembedo, Bartabas, Stefanie Batten Bland, director/writer Françoise Dô, visual artist Jean-Paul Goude and TV director Christian Faure. Alongside Kamuyu has performed in industrials, television and Broadway musicals, The Lion King (Paris) and FELA ! (UK and Equity European and US tours).

Kamuyu founded dance company, WKcollective, which is associate company with creative production agency camin aktion (Montpellier, France). Her choreographic projects include tours in the US, Africa, Asia and Europe. Commissions include musical À la recherché de Joséphine, director Jérôme Savary (Paris and International tours); Love is in the hair, director Jean François Auguste (France tour); Maître Harold, director Hassan Kassi Kouyate (Paris); US esteemed dance departments (Mills College, University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Stephens College); artistic consulting/outside eye for choreographer Bintou Dembele’s ZH; choreographer assistant to Nathan Trice’s Their speech is silver, Their silence is gold; storyteller Nathalie La Boucher’s La Chevauchée du Gange;) and community engagement projects with New WORLD Theater (USA), choreographer Eun-mi Ahn’s project 1:59 (Festival Paris Quartier d’Été), Euroculture and the National Center for Dance project Assemblé (France).

While touring she offers master classes and workshops for dance companies, universities, community and dance centers. Kamuyu holds a MFA (performance & choreography) from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA). She has served as Visiting Guest Professor at Mills College (USA) and is currently core faculty for University of South Florida’s Dance in Paris semester and summer programs.

Simon Nyiringabo

Born and raised in the western heart of France, Simon Nyiringabo trained from childhood in circus arts. His sustained praxes of acrobatics and trapeze, strengthened by his years at the National School of Circus Arts at Châtellerault (ENCC) and the National Centre of Circus Arts (CNAC) at Châlon-en-Champagne, led him into the itinerant life of tours and productions.

Thanks to these artistic encounters, he has constantly broadened his skillset and increased his explorations of artistic disciplines. His interest in, among other, technical and mechanical devices, led him gradually to specialize in the art of suspension. Inventing systems of flight and suspension onstage would be the driving force of his creativity. All in the service of weaving dreams.

Tamar Osborn

Multi-wind instrumentalist Tamar Osborn is the creative force behind modal jazz ensemble Collocutor (On The Corner Records), having so far released three critically acclaimed LPs and an EP. She is also a long-standing member of the Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra, and collaborates regularly in various ensembles with Sarathy Korwar, Ill Considered, Jessica Lauren, Emanative, DJ Khalab and more.

A professional freelancer for 20+ years with a background in both classical music and jazz, she has worked in many different contexts around the world: touring internationally with contemporary/Indian classical dancer Akram Khan’s ‘Xenos’; London productions of the FELA! musical (National Theatre, Sadler’s Wells); Air Anatolia and Moments Notice projects for London Jazz Festival; working with artists as diverse as Kelis, Rhye, Tanmoy Bose, and the Africa Express project with Tony Allen, Fatoumata Diawara and Batida amongst others. As ‘Tamar Collocutor’ she also hosts a monthly cross-genre music show on Soho Radio, including interviews with musicians and others involved in the industry.

Al MacSween

Al MacSween’s experiences of working with a staggering range of artists have shaped his unique sound and his rich palette of influences, ranging from jazz and electronic music, to Afro-Cuban and West-African music to Indian classical, Arabic, Afghan and Turkish music. He has collaborated with numerous acclaimed artists including Ruby Turner MBE, American jazz legend Gary Bartz, Syrian qanun master Maya Youseff, London Community Gospel Choir, Palestinian jazz singer Reem Kelani, Kurdish vocalist Olcay Bayir and kora player Kadialy Kouyate; and since moving to London has become centrally involved in the city’s emerging”new” jazz scene, working extensively with artists including Nubya Garcia, Sarathy Korwar, Camilla George, Maisha, Daniel Casimir, Bex Burch, Danalogue, Chiminyo and many more.

Al began playing the piano at the age of 5 and had formed his first group by the age of 11. At 18 he went to Leeds College of Music to study a Bachelors in jazz piano where he was also exposed to the city’s thriving dub, electronic music and sound system culture. It was also in Leeds where he began to develop a deep interest in Indian classical improvisation, leading to yearly trips to Kolkatta to study under renowned musician Prattyush Bannerjee, working with world-renowned Indian classical artists including Aruna Sairam, Shankar Mahadevan, Debashish Bhattacharya and many more; as well as exceptional British-Indian artists including Soumik Datta, Roopa Panesar, Nicki Wells, Deepa Nair Rasiya, Jesse Bannister and Ranjana Ghatak.

Al has also been heavily involved in the UK’s Latin scene, recording and performing with artists including Omar Puente, Yelfris Valdes, Bugalu Foundation and Grupo X, performing at the esteemed Havana Jazz Festival and La Palacia De La Rumba in Cuba, and studying in Havana with legendary Cuban pianist Rodolfo Argudín ‘Perochin’.

Al is founder of the award-winning group Kefaya alongside drummer Joost Hendrickx and guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, who recently collaborated on a new album with renowned Afghan folk singer Elaha Soroor.