Arts House Chat: Ahilan Ratnamohan

Ahilan Ratnamohan is a soccer player and a theatre maker who creates physical performance inspired by by sport, film language and unorthadox foms.  In SDS1, opening at Arts House on 19 August, he draws on his personal experience as a player and the sweat and the physicality of “the beautiful game” to create “football dance theatre” that sees the player caught in the performance, rather than in control of it.


After graduating in 2005 from Film Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, Ratnamohan attempted a professional football (soccer) career in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.

In 2013, he performed at the dance festival Tanz im August in Berlin. He also premiered his first work as a director in Antwerp with a football-dance work addressing the aspirations of the transient African migrant community looking for a way out of poverty through football. Since then the work has performed in Australia, South africa and europe.

In Australia, he has worked with companies including Urban Theatre Projects, Branch Nebula, Legs on the Wall, PACT, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Theatre Kantanka, Martin del Amo and Campbelltown Arts Centre.

How do you describe your show to your friends?
This one’s a bit more abstract than the last ones, but I reckon you’ll still like it.

Whos theatre or work inspires you?
Branch Nebula, Bruno Beltrao, Contact Gonzo, Gintersdorfer/Klaßen

Who or what inspires you outside of theatre?
The film-makers Carlos Reygadas and Ulrich Seidl.

Footballers. Too many to name, but right now Marco Verratti is my man-crush.

People in shitty situations, often looked down upon society, but doing incredibly innovative things to survive.

What was your first idea for this show?
I had this really eerie track from some Japanese anime and it was pretty long and I just imagined myself walking back and forth with the ball on my head as the audience walked in,

Did it make it into the final work?

What question(s) would you like your audience to ask themselves before, during and/or after your show?
I just want them to challenge their own notions of football as art. And that could result in both positive and negative conclusions. I would like to take them to new places using the theatrical and physical language of football and in doing so I hope they might question some of the structures of the game both politically and philosophically.

What show or whose work changed how you saw theatre?
Carlos Gomes’ piece Landed at the old Sidetrack was the first show I saw which made me realise theatre didn’t necessarily have to be Romeo and Juliet.

Alicia Talbot’s Last Highway was the first where I realised we can go there with theatre.

Branch Nebula’s Paradise City was probably the moment I started to fathom the potential of movement in football in creating something more poetic.

What made you laugh today?
This comment on one of the football articles on the Guardian. It was pretty tribal so I won’t go into it. But some of the regular posters there are pretty sharp.

How has your art making changed over the years?
It hasn’t been that many yet to be honest, but I have gotten a lot more confident in pursuing my ideas I think. I’m still learning a lot.

If you could invite anyone to see this show, who would it be?
This show? It would probably be Johan Cruyff (famous Dutch footballer/activist), but he really should’ve come to my first show, The Football Diaries. But I’d just settle for having the old SBS boys, say, Les Murray and Craig Foster.

Have you ever been in an audience and walked out of a show before it finished? Why?
Yeah. I was doing a SPARK Mentorship (now JUMP, I think) with Lee Wilson and we went to see some show circus show. I was pretty green back then, so it would’ve been one of a handful of shows I had seen and even though looking back, it was pretty crap, I wouldn’t have even considered walking out. But I guess it was a mentorship.

If youve performed this work before, whats changed since your last season?
When I first performed this work at PICA it was really DIY, I operated the lights and sound myself. With a bit of touring we got rid of that aspect to give the piece a bit more cohesion. But there’s probably going to be quite a bit which changes, because with this tour I’ve got some time to spend further developing the show and I’ll be spending a week with Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters (Branch Nebula) trying to strengthen it.

Whats one thing you have you learned to accept?
That I am not a dancer.

Whats your suggestion for ensuring that audiences turn their phones off during shows?
Probably better to let them leave it on and have a moment in the show when they can take selfies with the cast. It’s gonna happen anyway.

What advice can you give to emerging artists about making their own work and finding their voice?
Think big, always believe in yourself, stay focus… No, sorry I shudder a bit at the thought of giving emerging artists advice, beyond the aforementioned cliches that is. Honestly, their practice is probably vastly different to mine and they might not want to make the same kind of work as me. But I guess I could go more rudimentary.

  1. Learn how to write strong grant apps, get help (sorry this is pretty un-cool and un-romantic, but yeah…)
  2. Find a dramaturg you can really work with, someone who makes you stick to your initial vision even when everyone is telling you otherwise.

Oh and also if you are emerging you will probably want to say “yes” to everything and then some. But if you emerge you’ll have to un-learn that and then learn to say “no” which is really difficult I think.

Arts House and Mobile States
19–22 August

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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