In conversation with Aditi Mangaldas

by Ekatmata Sharma
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Aditi Mangaldas is a leading dancer and choreographer in the classical Indian dance form of Kathak. With extensive training under the leading gurus of Kathak, Shrimati Kumudini Lakhia and Pandit Birju Maharaj, Aditi is today recognised for her artistry, technique, eloquence and characteristic energy that mark every performance. Besides the classical productions, she has attempted to brake new ground by using her knowledge and experience of Kathak as a springboard to evolve a contemporary dance vocabulary, infused with the spirit of the classical. Aditi is the choreographer and principal dancer of the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company -The Drishtikon Dance Foundation. In a candid conversation she talks about her journey and her dance productions
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How did you conceptualize your recent performance ‘Widening Circles’ performed at The Natya Ballet Dance Festival?
‘Widening Circles’ hasn’t been performed so extensively. I premiered it two years ago in Delhi for the Natya Darshan Seminar. There were some of my older pieces that I had done many years ago. They were somehow resonating in my head. I had used a lot of Shlokas from the Atharvaveda and Yajurveda for symbolizing the sun. The theme of the seminar was blossoming lotus. There were many ways of expressing the blossoming lotus, but I wanted to do something that I believed in. The blossoming lotus is used in many religious practices as offering. But I dint want to take the religious course. And I was really lucky, when somebody suggested to me in one discussion about the concept of Prattityasamutpada which means interdependent co-arising, this is because that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that. That’s the circle of life. And I came across this beautiful poem of Tagore and Rilke that I weaved into it.  The piece is pure Kathak and is presented in three parts – the sun, the earth and the moon. The thread bringing them all together is that I live my life in widening circles. We had kind of put this piece in storage after the seminar. Now, I am very happy that this year I will be showcasing more shows of ‘Widening Circles’ and the next one is in Jaipur.
What is your style of dance?
My style of dance is called ‘Contemporary dance based on Kathak’. I like dancing Kathak, which is not obvious. I don’t like the lecture demonstration style. I think that has had its day. It’s been there and I had danced it innumerable number of times. It only evokes in the spectator a sense of awe. Beyond that what? Einstein rightly said ‘Imagination is far greater than knowledge’. So let the imagination flow. Maybe you understand something else and the other person understands something else. Maybe you dint understand at all. But, hopefully there will be a little bit of resonance which will be there like an echo, maybe two or ten years later. Or maybe when you see the sun rising. For me that is very important.
Is Kathak easy to adapt in the contemporary setup?
Kathak has an interesting history. It has gone from the temples to the courts. Imagine how contemporary those Kathak dancers would have been. To use the style and yet the entire social ambience changed. It allows for a lot of innovation and internal and external widening circles. I call my dance contemporary dance based on Kathak. I don’t like to mix both. It’s like planting a seed of Kathak and watering it with contemporary sensibilities. Watering with many kind of training that we give to dancers are basically that the tree is of Kathak and the branches of contemporary dance.
Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company - The Drishtikon Dance Foundation 4
You are known for using different elements in your performances. What is the approach?
I use a lot of elements in my works. We particularly work with lot of international designers for lighting, stage, music, costume designers and sound engineers. I design all my classical performance costumes. For contemporary dance, I have costume designers. All these elements are not brought in just without thinking. There is a reason why the elements have brought in. There is a thought process behind it. It’s not that sun is there so we have given a spotlight. In ‘Widening Circles’, the portrayal of sun rising was so subtle, that the lights slowly lit up with its rising description. Showing the beam of light passing through the forest, followed by the depiction of moon at night with the lighting setup requires a lot of planning. I have always worked with all these elements to enhance the piece.
How much time does it take to prepare a piece?
We perform back to back, but our pieces take a long time to prepare. Some of our pieces take a year in making. Solo pieces take less time, but the larger pieces take a lot of time. The thought process starts first.  It took around a year to prepare ‘Widening Circles’.
It’s often being criticized that classical dance is losing its roots. What’s your opinion?
I would ask the critics what is right. What do you mean by genuine? How far in history do you go back? Because if we go back to the history of Kathak, then women shouldn’t be dancing, it was danced only by men. I think change is the only constant. There is place for everybody in this world. The focus is on excellence rather than academic. I am not a scholar; I am not here to write a book. I am here to transform may be even a little bit of someone’s life. Whether it’s done through classical, contemporary, folk or Bollywood! As long as there is a sense of honesty, everything is fine. It’s not something I picked up because it’s fashionable. It’s because, from within this is what I want to do. You should have the courage to dance your own dance.
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Is the younger generation open to accepting classical dance forms?
I have very young students in my institute. I am the oldest one. The world is very small. As the world grows smaller, we need to grow larger. That’s the only way for our tradition to live. Change is the only way it can be preserved. It’s like a river that is constantly flowing and rejuvenating itself. The youngster’s needs not to be taken for granted. You have to challenge them. You have to put forward things that are positive challenges to them. We have a lot of young people who come to our contemporary dance classes. I don’t have to be burdened by my history I have to be informed by it. You have to have desire from within. You have to dance with abundant passion. Of course there are critics and that’s good, because you will go completely haywire.
At five you began dancing, now at 56, how is the feeling?
I just think of the now. I always count my blessings. Every moment and every day is a learning process. Hopefully that learning doesn’t finish. As a person one is constantly evolving and re-inventing oneself. Never being self complacent. Lots of performances are coming up next year along with a lot of collaborations with Italian light designers, Japanese costume designers and other international experts. I will be doing a Europe tour in 2017.

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