Interview: Ajay Chhabra from Nutkhut, ‘Finding moments of beauty in chaos

Theatre company Nutkhut are presenting a new character exclusively for Glastonbury Festival 2023. Daasata (Hindi for Nemesis) will come to life during the duration of the festival – performance art/live art in partnership with award winning Body painter and artist Victoria Guggenheim. Inspired by Nemesis, the gender-neutral Greek Goddess of Indignation and the Twin Paradox theory.

Arguably Nutkhut’s most visually ambitious work to date, Swyron is a spiritual revolutionary, a nomadic warrior, plucked from the battlefields of the Mahabharata and re-imagined with a futuristic twist. Channelling the visionary genius of HG Wells, Nutkhut’s bold reinvention, where Victoriana meets Vedic.

Based on a timeless universal theme of futurism, all with a Glastonbury backdrop, Nutkhut’s creative approach to diversity, representation and the Global majority is a unique process of powerful storytelling and how new work comes alive with the audience as participants.

Founded in 2003 and now approaching its 21st Anniversary, Nutkhut was created to present Ajay Chhabra and Simmy Gupta’s creative work following 15 years as performers with other companies. We caught up with Chhabra to hear about what it’s like to be back at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. 

What can you tell us about Nutkhut?

2023 marks 21 years of Nutkhut.

We are a South Asian multidisciplinary arts company. We are storytellers working across live performance, heritage, futurism and technology. We have been a part of Glastonbury since we started.

Nutkhut creates festivals, digital artworks and theatrical moments which bring people together, under single, universal experiences.

Nutkhut’s award winning body of work: Dr Blighty, Never Set Eyes and Girmit, a Trilogy of Defining Moments, has impacted and influenced diaspora communities through the lens of art, heritage and technology.

What was the original inspiration behind founding Nutkhut?

To create narratives and stories in public spaces that reflect our lives. To share stories that we recognised but were not around back then. To bring the private into the public domain. We also love the idea of mixing art forms and festivals – the audience is always part of our performance.

The company is performing at this year’s Glastonbury – what’s it like to be performing at the festival?

Exhilarating, Engaging, Encapsulating!

We love Glastonbury, the order, the chaos, the love, all of these emotions and more. It’s a special palace and ever since we first stepped on site all those years ago we felt welcomed by Bella, Haggis and the amazing Theater and circus team – talented, understated, simply special people. Bella was so generous and kind to us. At our first Glastonbury, she encouraged  Michael Eavis and family to come and see our act – that was nerve racking, but we are so happy it happened – we believe in family and Glastonbury is one special family.

What can people expect from your performances?

An element of surprise. No two Nutkhut shows are the same and we often overhear  ‘What are Ajay and Simmy going to do next?’

Spontaneity, finding moments of beauty in chaos, finding universal connections. For this year’s Glastonbury Festival Nutkhut have been offered a special seed commission to develop our hugely successful Mahabharata inspired superhero Swyron – building on the metaverse.

We love breaking down the fourth wall – engaging with our audiences – they become part of our shows, we love blurring the lines between life and performance – after all isn’t it the same?

How important is it to have British South-Asian experiences represented in places like Glastonbury?

Festivals are special places. In an age of echo chambers, festivals are the last bastion of magic, spontaneity and chaos. A place to meet old friends and new to make new friends.

The founding spirit of Glastonbury carried with it an Indian spirit along the hippie trail and that spirit has continued throughout the years – a spirit of oneness, spirituality, connection.

The influence of the South Asian metaverse is all around us, from cities and towns, to villages and festivals, from the food we eat, to the way we move to music. The South Asian experience has been the foundation of Glastonbury.

Nutkhut perform Swyron at Glastonbury Festival. Full details of performance times available here.