SHOWCASING on the 4th November at the BDisLIT Festival 2023

Salt Easter’s is the reimagining of a dance on Ashura,

the 10th day of Muharram by Umda, a Muslim dancer drawn out of the

history books of Sambar Salt Lake in Rajasthan. 

Salt Eaters

Theatre in the Mill & Amal

Salt Eaters 1 is a site specific experience created by artist Mez Galaria. With support from Theatre in the Mill and Amal.

Salt Eaters 1 begins with the story of Umda, a Muslim dancer drawn out of the history books of Sambhar Salt Lake in Rajasthan.

It is based on historical records detailing the relationship between the moral ideology of salt as a communal resource and source of recompense for artists – a convention which was actively disrupted by the involvement of the East India Co across India and the subcontinent.

Click here to see the list of workshops delivered through the project.


About the Installation

Salt Eaters 1 invites you to watch a short film about the project so far and a hologrammatic film.  

The installation will also include a teachable that will allow smartphone users to download a link to enable them to watch a mini version of the larger hologram on their own phones.  

Follow the Project

Use the links below to read about the developments in the project.

About the Artist

Mez Galaria

Mez Galaria is a trained dancer and choreographer; in the decade since graduating from Northern School of Contemporary Dance she has worked across the Bradford district teaching both drama and dance to hard-to-reach communities with Dance for Life. She has danced with two professional companies as a member of the core group and has worked as a dancer on a number of Bollywood films directed by Bosco Martis. Her work on stages in the region include the seminal Carnival Messiah with Geraldine Connor, Bollywood Jane at Leeds Playhouse, and 99 Percent Halal at Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill. In the past two years she has performed in a number of radio plays, including the Radio 4 play Breaking up with Bradford, written by Bradford-based writer Kamal Kaan and Partition, which was premiered on BBC Radio Leeds before being staged at Leeds Playhouse.

Her international work includes a seven-month tour of Italy and European tours with the famed Chipperfield and Bouglione Circus family shows.

She is one of the two stars of Bradford writer AA Dhand’s soon-to-be-released short film No Ordinary Life, set and filmed in the city. She is committed to making and presenting high quality work in the North.


Latest Writing

Salt Eaters is a site specific multidisciplinary installation by artist Mez Galaria with support from Theatre in the Mill.

Sambhar Lake, Jaipur, 1870s
The folk tale dances of South Asian culture are a significant part of Islamic culture and history often omitted from contemporary perspectives. These lost dances were performed by both Muslim and Hindu trained dancers who were held in high renown within the upper echelons of regal power.
Salt Eaters seeks to place the audience into the heart of both the dance and the experience.
This installation is the first attempt to peer into the past at the untold history of Umda, a Muslim performer whose story is touched upon in a podcast called Maylee Dancing Girl vs The East India Company. The podcast is part of a British Library special project series called Histories of the Ephemeral Writing on Music in Late Mughal India, 1757 to 1858.
In amongst the records of Sambhar Lake kept during the East India Company sequester of the natural resource, the company had a list of singers, musicians and dancers on its official payment records. From these records it is clear that the performers also had ancient rights to be paid in the salt taken from the lake.
It gave rise to the name the artists were given: Salt Eaters.
Umda was a Muslim dancer who, in the early part of the 19th century, lived and performed near Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan, North India.
It is Umda’s story that Mez approached Theatre in the Mill with a few years back, looking for support to research this project a story of several generations of dancers being paid by those who were in charge of India’s largest salt lake.
At the heart of this stage of presentation is a performance Umda might have given for the Muharram celebrations to mark the start of the Islamic new year. An attempt to reproduce a ‘ghost’ dance and in doing so reframe some ideas around the perception of dance and dancers in islam.
Early in the discussions we talked about whether we could use VR as a way of offering an intimate and personal relationship between Umda and the audience. It was whilst we were researching this approach Mez brought to our attention some new hologram techniques she’d been made aware of and had a contact who had been developing this creative approach.
So we visited Hologramica in London and began considering this technology as an ideal way to present Umda for audiences whilst retaining a physical experience throughout. The initial idea was to fuse the digital dancer, brought back to life through hologram projection, within an intimate physical space, where audiences would encounter the smells, tastes and visuals of an ante room within a 19th century court.
Intermittently over the past 12 months we have played around with ways to achieve this, setting up a hologram rig within Tiny TiM at the UoB and testing ways of filming using super 8 as an analogue aesthetic parsed through digital software to try and create a closeup reimagined Umda. When it works the hologram can have an ephemeral, past life quality which we have been attempting to capture in this first research period.
As is often the case there were some quick wins and the initial stages of getting a working prototype happened fairly quickly whilst some of the merging of techniques required frequent iterations and threw up new considerations. Little things can throw off the effect attempted and the aim is to frame the image in a way that reduces the gimmick of the hologram and blend it into the background of a more intimate, curated encounter.
It’s still early days in the design of this project but hopefully the insight being presented at TiM as part of light night gives a glimpse of what the future might hold.

Salt Eaters Tech

About the Tech

Salt Eaters 1 uses Holopops, a portable stand alone holographic unit with a footprint of 3.2 meters wide x 2.5 deep and 2.7 meters high.

The tech exploration behind Salt Eaters. 1/11/23

Ivan Mack. Creative Technologist and maker.
My involvement with Salt Eaters was an attempt to incorporate analogue processes into a digital work stream to allow those technologies to enhance Mez’s exploration and presentation of this lost dance and hidden narrative. Mez was interested in analogue film (both stills and cinefilm), and I’d previously worked in Super8, 8mm, 16mm and 35mm cine and loved the effects of using mechanical shutters and analogue processes. Super 8mm cameras in particular have a lot of artefacts and glitches caused by cheap plastic lenses, slow shutters, and variable reliability. From the outset I have been interested in how the effects of flawed analogue cine photography might interact with both the final form of the dance and the choreography if we could build that feedback pathway into our workflow. I was also interested in the imposition of a loss of fidelity in the delivery of the dance and whether that would enhance the feel of something ephemeral and lost.

I also had ambitious goals around live compositing of multiple video sources and combinations of the ‘Holopops’ set up and a back projected surface, but these proved to be beyond the scope of the project. This was also affected by our own uncertainties about where and to what extent proprietary kit with protected IP can and can’t be hacked and modified, and re-worked and a limit to the physical workspace we had available for the setup.

The challenge with the use of analogue photography was that the timescales for exposing, developing, printing and scanning film, were such that from the outset it was clear it wouldn’t have the ability to interact fully with the work unless we could digitise the analogue equipment in some way. Cost was a minor but present factor too. The plan was to build a super8 cartridge with an image sensor in place of the film stock, with integrated wi-fi capability and card storage to allow digital recording and streaming. I’d previously seen a prototype open source digital super8 cartridge, developed by a couple of other makers using some pretty standard off the shelf electronics - “Raspberry Pi zero W” and a “Pi cam”.

The nature of a lot of open source work, however, is that sometimes documentation is poor (or absent in this case). Although some code was available, a lot of the time I had available on the project was spent reverse engineering. No two cameras are the same and so I went through fourteen design iterations of physical versions of the cartridge to get one that would fit one of the two cameras we had available. Spending time 3d printing a cartridge, test fitting to the camera and to the internal electronics, and then redesigning and repeating.

The first working version of the cartridge spectacularly self destructed a couple of months prior to this sharing due to a power problem. Building a replacement was a much quicker job but unfortunately wasn’t available by the time we needed to film Mez’s final dance. Instead what is presented includes layers of digital processing using data from real super8 film to enhance the sense of archival or found footage.

The process has been rewarding, frustrating, educational, difficult and uplifting in equal measure. There have been some very personal challenges during the last two years that meant time on the project was drastically curtailed for all of us in different ways. What is being presented though is something that’s been done with love, and thought, and meaningful dialogue despite limitations and setbacks. I hope the seed of this story and it’s important conversations continue to grow and develop beyond this stage of the work.
It utilises laxer projector, specific rigging structure and lights alongside the patented 3D Holonet.

The gallery of images and short videos showcasing the process so far