PETTEE : storybox

Deepak Unnikrishnan & Karthika Naïr

Dancer upside down.
Conception – artistic director
Deepak Unnikrishnan, Karthika Naïr

In 2024, Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels is supporting The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi for the presentation of PETTEE : storybox devised by Deepak Unnikrishnan.

Ideas of living and leaving, of sharing real and surreal stories weaved together through movement, music and flight, the performance PETTEE is about marrying these ideas and conversations together.
Dancers and fabricated landscape lead the audience into an immersive world of movement where bodies unbend, lunge and soar to unseal and unpack years of youth, where multiple futures, each magical, seemed possible.
“Pettee” in different languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi… has multiple meanings, but one that everyone recognizes instantly: container. “Pettee” can also shift shape to become box, briefcase, casket, coffin, in all the forms, colors or materials that the human brain and hands have made possible. Similar to “petit” which can also mean insignificant, young but also humble, unknown, mean, poor… petty.
It is a word that is our spirit animal for all of us with rootlessness, with displacement, in our blood. All of us who inherited shoots instead of roots, feet instead of home.
Containers we carry. Containers that contain us. Containers that make us dream of flight.

About the artist

Portrait Deepak Unnikrishnan

Deepak Unnikrishnan

Deepak Unnikrishnan is a writer from 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.
At the 57th Venice Biennale, Deepak’s fiction was featured in the written publication of the National Pavilion of the UAE. His work can also be found in Gross Ideas: Tales of Tomorrow’s Architecture, a book project commissioned by the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale, and is forthcoming in the written publication of the UAE National Pavilion at the 2023 Venice Biennale of Architecture.
His voice and work can also be heard on musician Sarathy Korwar’s album More Arriving.
His essays and fiction have appeared in many different international medias, and he frequently collaborates with artists and scholars across disciplines.  Deepak Unnikrishnan currently teaches at NYU Abu Dhabi.

© Philip Cheung

Portait Karthika Naïr

Karthika Naïr

Karthika Naïr is a 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, and was highly commended at the 2016 Forward Prizes. 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.

Karthika Naïr’s play Beneath the Music, created and directed by Jay Emmanuel for Encounter Theatre, premiered at the Subiaco 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, as well as Carlos Pons Guerra’s Mariposa, a queer reimagining of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. She is the co-founder of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Antwerp-based dance company and executive producer of several of his and Damien Jalet’s works.

© Koen Broos