Award-winning choreographer Aditi Mangaldas works with the classical Indian dance form of Kathak. She was nominated for outstanding performance (classical) by the National Dance Critics awards in the UK in 2017. But she is so much more than an award. In our conversation over the phone, Aditi Mangaldas not only answers all the questions I have about classical Indian dance. She also proposes and answers to new ones. How’s that for an interview? In a nutshell, she is a delight to talk to. Very knowledgeable on her practice and the complexities of tradition and representation of classical Indian dance.
Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company is an international touring troupe. A quick look on their website tells me they perform all over India, South East Asia, Europe, and North America. The company is famous for creating work based on Kathak with a contemporary sensibility. Mangaldas started dancing Kathak at the tender age of five. Under the tutelage of two inspiring and encouraging gurus: Shrimati Kumudini Lakhia and Pandit Birju Maharaj. Mangaldas speaks softly and slowly, and she is aware of every single word that follows. ‘We were already slightly exposed to looking at classical Indian dance with a contemporary or modern mind when I was growing up. But it wasn’t until 1986 I had an urge to tell a story that I couldn’t tell through classical Kathak.’
‘It was very small, little steps because the tradition at times is very overbearing.’
Mangaldas makes a point from the beginning, ‘ I call it contemporary dance based on Kathak.’ I learn that this comes from a desire to tell stories and at times those stories have changed. She couldn’t find the right way to tell these narratives through the broader parameters of the classical form. In a brilliant analogy of what her work is, Mangaldas tells me, ‘it’s like planting the seed of Kathak and watering it with contemporary sensibilities. Made with different inspiration, text and new movement possibilities. So the tree that grows out has a Kathak root but it has absorbed from the contemporary time. Therefore it is informed by the geography and history of Kathak but it is not constricted by it.’
Mangaldas proposes a beautiful question. ‘Do I love dance or do I love Kathak?’ Without a doubt, she loves to dance. Kathak is a long-time partner, it was there from the beginning as a form and first passion, but it is dancing that keeps pushing the boundaries of curiosity. The desire to tell new stories and traverse new sensations. She reasons; ‘Kathak can never take presidency over the fact I love to dance. So first is dance.’
Mangaldas creates choreography with the intent to be seen as something universal. Her latest performance coming to Singapore, Inter_rupted speaks of the fragility of the body. The constant disintegration and resilience of the human body. This performance is about a desperate attempt to hold on to a moment that has past. It’s also a very personal performance, I learn. Our conversation flows into more questions and answers from Mangaldas. ‘How do you work with 20 years old dancers who at this stage in their lives have not yet experienced disintegration? How do you bring about this sensitiveness? This interruption that happens is part of life but not completely recognized at the youthful age of twenty.’
Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company performs Inter_rupted at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, 16 November with Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts
This post is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.