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Close encounters of the steampunk kind at Glastonbury 2024

“This is much more than a job to us,” says Ajay Chhabra, co-artistic director of Aldershot-based arts company Nutkhut. “The work we make can be informative, but it also brings joy to people and puts a smile on their face.”

Regular visitors to the Glastonbury Festival will know exactly what he means. Nutkhut – the Hindi word for ‘mischievous’ – is a familiar face at Glastonbury’s Circus and Theatre Fields, a place where all manner of performers rub shoulders with festival-goers from 11am to the wee hours.

Nutkhut, which was formed 21 years ago by Ajay and fellow British Asian artist Simmy Gupta (pictured), creates live performances that encompass dance, music, circus skills, film and digital design. Its mission is to bring to life awe-inspiring stories of the British South-Asian experience through joyous and playful performances and installations.

In the summer of 2012, National Lottery-supported Nutkhut created its most visually ambitious work to date. Swyron is a “spiritual revolutionary, a nomadic warrior” who has been plucked from the battlefields of an ancient Indian text called The Mahabharata. Ajay said, “We wanted to imagine what it would look like if a character was catapulted from the oldest poem in the world into the 25th century.”

Swyron resembles a character from a graphic novel; a steampunk superhero who wears golden armour decorated with jewels, valves and dials and travels on a steam-billowing time machine that plays Indian dance music. At the 2023 Glastonbury Festival he was joined by another character, Dasaata, named after the Hindi word for ‘nemesis’. Created in collaboration with body painter Victoria Guggenheim, Dasaata is an eye-popping humanoid illuminated by neon lights and fluoro body paint.

Said Ajay, “The ‘wow factor’ is really, really important for us. Glastonbury is a very sophisticated audience that knows its stuff, so Swyron and Dasaata had to be really special.”

Nutkhut’s pair of steampunk revolutionaries certainly made an impact as they wandered around Glastonbury’s Circus and Theatre Fields last year, amazing festival goers. “People stop and stare,” said Ajay. “Their children and grandchildren want a picture. We’re really proud of Swyron and Dasaata.”

Swyron and Dasaata will be back at the Circus and Theatre Fields at the 2024 Glastonbury Festival, says Ajay. He added, “We’ll be there for the whole five days – you can spot us day or night. We always say ‘just come to the fields and if we’re destined to meet, we will’. The chance encounters are often the most powerful.”

Like many arts companies, Nutkhut has to be resourceful when it comes to budgeting. The company is devoted to recycling and upcycling and Swyron’s incredible time machine is actually a repurposed electric golf buggy.

Ask Ajay how important National Lottery support is to Nutkhut and he doesn’t hesitate. “My answer is simple: we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for The National Lottery. We wouldn’t be able to follow our passion and bring communities together and joy to thousands of people over the years. We’ve built and grown and developed as a result of this funding helping support arts and creativity.”

20th May 2024

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