ONLINE: Watch five invaluable dance collab conversations with Imperfect Circle celebrating 30 years of Aditi Mangaldas’s Drishtikon

Aditi Mangaldas

The Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – the Drishtikon Dance Foundation has completed three decades of presenting works in Kathak and contemporary based on Kathak by Aditi Mangaldas and the dance in her company repertoire. Anyone who knows Aditi, the plain-spoken and endlessly innovative Kathak dynamo, will know that everything Drishtikon presents has the same qualities. Her company repertoire, made up of young but experienced dancers, most of them shishyas of other gurus who teach in the traditional guru-shishya parampara, provides a space where dancers can celebrate both traditional and experimental and test their own abilities. Three decades of a platform like that is truly cause for celebration.

One of the celebratory activities they have planned are the broadcast of five films featuring five conversations with Aditi’s long-time collaborators: Farooq Chaudhry, Fabiana Piccioli, Shubha Mudgal, Morag Deyes and Mavin Khoo. These five films cover the aspects of dramaturgy, light design, music composition, mentorship and rehearsal directorship in the realm of dance. Curated by Aditi Mangaldas, these films capture conversations between five international guest speakers and 27 acclaimed young Indian dancers who weave new dimensions of thought and approaches to the current dance scenario and unravel the power within collaborations. I spoke to Aditi about these films and the three-decade journey of Drishtikon.

Timeless (2011) by Drishtikon

- What has the graph of your journey with your dance company been like? How have these 30 years been for you and the people attached with your company?

Aditi: A dance journey of such a long time has been very positively challenging, in which I have learnt a lot and been greatly inspired by the many great artists who have come through Drishtikon, not only dancers but also musicians, architects, designers, music composers . . . The journey has been a great learning and humbling experience. Like life, there are some ups, some downs, some mistakes, but the important thing is to learn from those mistakes, and to get up and say, tomorrow is another day, let’s start again. The highs you have to take in the right perspective and not let them to go to your head. Everything is transitory. You should enjoy that particular moment and its beauty, whether it’s positive or negative. If it’s negative, you learn and take away from it how you got there and how you were able to get out so you don’t trip over that same stone again. Take everybody along – the journey of an artist is the journey of many streams of life and art attached. I’m very grateful, inspired, humbled and hopeful.

Aditi in Timeless, 2011

- Why is it important to give equal space to the other performers and share your space with younger people?

Aditi: Many of the great dancers and gurus have shared their work by having dance teaching institutions. In fact, this last year, I have spent more time teaching than in my whole career because my concentration earlier was mostly on my own solos or choreographies. My sharing was in a different way. I have shared by having very few shishyas but sharing my journey of understanding of Kathak with all the artists and musicians who have come through Drishtikon, and derived happiness from seeing them progress. At the same time, it is better for the choreography also. In praising somebody else, you don’t take away from yourself. If I am good or bad, that somebody else must judge – time and history will judge. I just want to be completely immersed and truthful to my own dance. But my praising somebody else won’t reduce my stature – my stature is what it is in your perception. Giving to someone else doesn’t take away from my space. I give creative independence because it is an infinite universe. Only those who think it is finite have a problem with giving creative freedom. If younger people are not creatively energized, then what they do even for me will be limited.

Aditi in Footprints on Water, 2013

- In the present times, we see that light design and music composition are even more important to any dancer, whether performing physically or virtually. Is that why you have sessions on these?

Aditi: As I have said very often, our concern with the aesthetics that go with Kathak is not new. The concern with these aesthetics – like what kind of light was there, was it firelight – were already in the temples, where kathakars used to perform, and in the courts. It’s not that our concern with the ambience of where we dance is new. That is why we have started this chat series called Imperfect Circle, so that we can learn from young but accomplished dancers who have a body of work behind them, to ask what their concerns are. And to share what I have learnt working with world-renowned people like Farooq Chaudhary, Fabiana Piccioli, Shubha Mudgal, Morag Deyes, Mavin Khoo. I had that opportunity and I realized how important collaborations were. Sometimes we think we are sampoorna, complete – that’s why we called it Imperfect Circle. Dance, like life, is an imperfect circle, but at its very centre is a perfect, infinite point. And as artists, we find multitudes of circles within this imperfect circle of dance and collaborations help us find these multitudes of circles. Therefore this chat series, where I have invited 5-7 Indian dancers in conversation with these various great people, who have great expertise in their own form. They will explain how their art relates to our Indian scenario. It was very interesting to hear the young dancers’ comments and questions about this journey. We premiere this series on Friday. The conversations are very thought-provoking.

Aditi in Widening Circles, 2016

- How do you think dramaturgy helps in dance productions?

Aditi: Dramaturgy is not something that decides whether you dance a traditional presentation or not. In a way, a dramaturg explores your concept, finds research material over time, over cultures, over civilizations in reference to the piece you are dancing. A dramaturg asks key questions of why are you doing it, the intention; at times, they point to you and say that if you are wanting to go in this direction it’s okay, but it’s very different from the direction you started in. They can point out that that you may want to say something, but what I understand from that dance is not the same thing. I think dramaturgy has come in from theatre. The dramaturg is only trying to be a mirror, they are going to pose difficult questions which you need to answer for yourself – why you are doing or not doing a traditional piece, for instance. It’s not that people are not interested in traditional or in contemporary. It can be that that is your consideration, but you need to be clear about your intention and then the work has more honesty to it. In the series, you will see how interestingly the dancers have asked questions and how Farooq has answered them.

Within by Drishtikon, 2013

- Please explain the role of mentorship and rehearsal directorship for young dancers today.

Aditi: About mentorship, I can tell you by example. There are some positive and negative sides of each artist’s dance – technical, emotional, attitudinal at times. The mentor is able to see the psyche of the dancer and bring out the best. At times, a mentor sees what the dancer themselves may not see. I may think mera bada dynamic dance hai, it’s my strong point, but a mentor may be able to say that actually I see that particular way you hold that movement is really beautiful and is a counterpoint to your dynamism, so don’t underplay it, but breathe more into that holding – just as an example. So a mentor, at times, is able to point out these subtleties and also be like a healer. A mentor is not your friend or a cheerleader. They are people who care about your work and who try to see you and who know your dance, psychology, abilities; they are able to say, why don’t you use that ability of yours – that is mentor. 

10x10 by Drishtikon, 2018

Rehearsal director is something quite new to me also, I have used one in only one or two productions so far. I observed certain rehearsals and found that a rehearsal director is able to be the bridge between the choreographer, the dancers and the audience. They can assess choreographer ke dimaag mein jo hai, dancer kar raha hai ke nahin. Even as a soloist, I am both choreographer and dancer. Sometimes, the choreographer comes out and gives a mahabhashan that totallt floors you, you are dazzled by the verbal explanation of the choreography. Then the dancer dances it and you say arre bhai, mujhe to touch nahin hua. You were more touched by the text rather than the dance. That is because there was a disconnect between the choreographer and the dancer. So the rehearsal director is able to take the vision of the choreographer and become a bridge first to the dancer and then to the audience. Also, they assess spacing, coordination, replacing an injured dancer etc.

Within... From Within by Drishtikon, 2020

- Why have you chosen young dancers to be on the panel for the conversations? Do you think younger people are more receptive to changes, such as have been wrought by the pandemic?

Aditi: We wanted to start the 30-year celebration with some kind of celebration every month. In January, we did teaching of the Drishtikon repertoire, which is ongoing – teaching our new choreography called Sparsh, done entirely in lockdown. I wanted to invite young acclaimed dancers who already have their own work, have invested their own ideas and philosophies into their choreographies, and then share my relationships with these five people in Imperfect Circle with them – open it out to some dancers who question the collaborator, and then put it out completely to other dancers who want to watch it. That is like giving back and sharing the privilege I have had as a dancer.

(Pics: Anoop Arora, except Within... From Within)

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company- The Drishtikon Dance Foundation in collaboration with Abheri Roots present
Imperfect Circle - Dialogues, Discoveries & Dance

supported by the British Council.

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