Zuleikha Khan presented an evening of dance and healing in aid of CanSupport in New Delhi this past week.

CanSupport presented a programme billed as An Evening of Dance and Story from the Heart of Healing. Titled Radiance, it was performed by dancer and dance therapist Zuleikha Khan. Trained in a range of movement arts, the Canada-based Zuleikha incorporates in her performances the spoken word, music and movement in an easygoing yet artistic format. The overall effect is one of compassion - not in a condescending way, but rather like an extended hand of friendship. Zuleikha, founder of the Storydancer Project that seeks to help women and children achieve health and well-being through movement in melody and rhythm, is one of those rare individuals who puts her performing talents to use for the practical benefit of her fellow human beings. Her presentations quote from poetry and myth and song to weave a contemporary fabric of many layers. She talks of how "all babies are born saying God's name over and over again," and how they cry "for no one remembers God's name." She speaks often of sickness and recovery: "When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, I stopped and looked around; just then I heard the sound of my soul."

Humour and spontaneity

But Zuleikha's performance at the packed India Habitat Centre the other day was by no means a preachy affair. Spontaneity and humour peppered the unique presentation. Trained in movement under Anna Halprin, a California choreographer, she has also studied under Ustad Hashim Chisti, who introduced her to dance and music of Afghanistan. Widely travelled, she has also been influenced by the dance forms of Bali in Indonesia and of Japan. Earlier, she studied at the Ali Akbar College of Indian Music in California. Shades of Kathak and Bharatanatyam can also be discerned in her movements.

All on stage

In the opening piece, she appeared dressed in a voluminous gown with a mask, the stage lighting illuminating it in interesting ways. Shadows and silhouettes played as important a role in the choreography as the dancer's sweeping movements and the voiceover. As the evening progressed, she made changes to her costume, now fastening it at the waist to give the body more shape, now removing the outer gown to reveal a bright fitting dress inside; at times tying bells on her ankles, at others removing them, without ever leaving the stage or breaking the narration. One of the highlights of the evening was her rendition of Kabir songs, translated into English by Rabindranath Tagore. She also depicted the story of a girl who was healed through dancing, an ancient legend of the native American people.The evening was a fund-raising event for CanSupport, which works with cancer patients both young and old, as well as the terminally ill. Besides raising funds and awareness of their work through such performances, the CanSupport volunteers make it clear to the public how every person in every sphere of life can contribute to the work of this charity. One of the lines in Zuleikha's presentation epitomised the mood of the evening and the miracle art can create, if artists will it: "I share these with you... as someone whose millions of cells have become happy by singing."