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“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”                                                       

Aruna Asaf Ali

While India’s freedom struggle against British rule brought to the fore many strong women, few received equal recognition to their male counterparts. One such unsung hero was Aruna Asaf Ali, a contemporary and follower of Mahatma Gandhi, who ran an effective, militant underground network against British rule in the 1940s.


SLDC’s new production ‘Āgraha’ is inspired by the life story of Aruna Asaf Ali and the many contradictions that defined this remarkable revolutionary. Her first endeavor into politics started with active participation in Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha in 1930. The word Satyagraha is from the Sanskrit words satya (meaning "truth") and Āgraha ("insistence", or "holding firmly to"). 


Born into an upper class Hindu family, Aruna went on to marry a Muslim man 23 years older than her. Her frail and charming exterior concealed a resilient woman who endured several harsh imprisonments for India’s independence, and a benevolent soul who worked tirelessly to improve the condition of women and the downtrodden throughout her life.

Set against this backdrop of Aruna Asaf Ali’s extraordinary life, ‘Āgraha’ uses stunning contemporary dance, with influences from kathak and flamenco, to explore deeply-ingrained notions of binary identity, challenging us to break out of the boxes we are cooped into by society and ourselves.

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Video & photo  credit: Matthew Cawrey

The creative team

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Chandaria Tillu

Artistic director & Performer

Sonia is  an award-winning dance artist and choreographer; and Artistic Director of the Sona Lisa Dance Company. She specialises in Kathak dance but her sensibilities are influenced by her exposure to dramatic arts, ballet, yoga, kalaripayattu and ballroom dancing.

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Jose Agudo 




Jose is a celebrated dancer & choreographer with roots in flamenco and contemporary dance styles. In 2011 he started training in Kathak and is assistant choreographer at the renowned  Akram Khan Dance Company.

Bernhard Schimpelsberger 

Music composer

Bernhard composes genre defying music, drawing from a unique palette of percussions from all around the world, including Jazz, Western & Indian classical music.  Bernhard has composed music for orchestra, art installations and many contemporary dance shows. 

Lou Cope




Lou is an award-winning Performance Dramaturg with over 15 years experience in working with artists, organisations and academic institutions to creatively and collaboratively develop both their processes and productions.

Hector Murray

Lighting design



Hector's work across theatre, dance and opera has included working with Headlong, Akram Khan, Gecko, Trinity Laban and British Youth Opera among others. In 2017, he was awarded The ETC Award from the Association of Lighting Designers for excellence in lighting design.

Costume design: Shivani Sethia

Commissioned by: 



30 November 2019: Preview at MAC Foyle Studio, Birmingham 

27 February 2020: Premiere as part of Triple Bill solo performance at Old Fire Station Theatre, Oxford 

14-15 March 2020: Performances as part of a triple bill solo show in Mombasa & Nairobi, Kenya 

19 September 2020: Bradford

"To be inspired by Aruna Asaf Ali’s extraordinary life was easy. The harder part has been to embody all the different, often contradictory, aspects of her personality into my dancing. I have been further challenged, but also creatively stimulated, by the need to broaden my range of movement, one with an entirely different accent, energy & attitude.


Āgraha’ is not a biopic, rather it is about interrogating notions of binary identity, about being able to be true to who you really are. These are issues that are equally relevant today, in fact more so."

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- Sonia

Photo credit: Matthew Cawrey

'Āgraha' is available for touring from early 2020.

Contact us to bring this production to your venue

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