A guiding light to many

A guiding light to many

Aditi Mangaldas, a passionate Kathak dancer, aspires to take this art form
to world stage with visionary ideas, while keeping its roots intact, writes Sharmila Chand

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, she is today recognised for her artistry, grace, technique and passionate energy that marks her every performance. Her dance extravaganzas are a story in motion, flowing in perfection with synchronising movements and rhythmic patterns.

Latest productions

She has been regaling her audience with her latest productions, Within, Unwrapped and a contemporary dance piece based on Kathak, titled Knotted. Kathak is not a tether that holds her back, but a deep root from which she draws the strength to grow, to explore new forms, and use the past to create a language of the future.

Traditional or contemporary, dance is Aditi’s eternal love. She loves it as though it were human. You cannot separate her from her dance. It has no beginnings and no ending. If you ask her how her journey into the realm of dance started, she will not be able to give a particular incident or date. Dancing has been an intrinsic part of her right from her childhood. In her words, “Dance is my best form of communication, an integral part of me, my being, my intellectual thoughts, my emotional responses.”

She recalls a beautiful quote: ‘A guru is somebody who shows you where to look and not what to see.’ That is her guiding principle as she says, “That I must have the courage to dance my own dance.”

She explains, “I feel it is necessary to be able to be influenced, to be inspired, to find wonder at everything that life has to offer. Yet, in the end, have the courage to dance your own dance.”

Life has been her biggest inspiration —   what better way to get inspired than to see the various hues of life and celebrate, she says. “There have been many people whose lives have certainly been inspiring, including my gurus’, my family and many amazing people who have crossed my path at times.”

Her form of dance

Aditi is primarily a Kathak dancer, but she does not like to restrict her art form within any boundaries. She explains, “To me, any creativity, any form of dance is like a flowing river, a river that is constantly rejuvenating itself. So, my classical form of dance is constantly growing… redefining… recreating itself. Besides this form, there is also a realm in which I like to experiment, which may not fall within the strict structure of classical Kathak.

It’s like a seed that is sown in the ground and watered with contemporary sensibilities. So that the tree that grows out is what I call contemporary work based on Kathak, which is very different from fusion. Because, it’s not mixing together or not like grafting an apple tree onto a pear tree, but growing homogenously, and it is actually more organically evolved from the seeds of Kathak. So, I dance Kathak, but I also like to experiment beyond the structure of the dance form,” she adds.

“I feel it is not a question of belief in one’s art, but it is something that inspires me, motivates me, fulfills me,” says Aditi. “I find it answers many questions I raise every day. And it also asks me many questions for which I can set myself to contemplate.”

Stressing on the importance of the  art form in her life, she shares, “Dance always redefines who I am — and makes me constantly a student who is constantly evolving, creating, questioning… also, something with the help of which, hopefully, I don’t lose the wonder of life.”

Speaking about the differences in reception of this dance form, she adds, “Music truly has no boundaries. I feel every city in the world always gives fabulous, enriching experience, and it gives you an opportunity to gather a new experience altogether. Dancing within India has a different feel as people understand the meaning, history, words and the whole cultural milieu, but outside India it is totally different.

Sometimes, even more interesting, as the audience gives responses as innocent human beings. They are able to enter your world of imagination, they also create their own magical world depending on where you have transported them. So, as an artiste, it is very exciting to feel their spontaneous responses. I was happy to share the stage with some great artistes at Edinburgh International Festival 2012, as it is one of the largest art festivals of the world. We presented our classical Kathak and contemporary work there and got tremendous response.”

 It has been a wonderful journey — extremely interesting, fulfilling and passionate for Aditi. “I am very fortunate and blessed to be in this profession and do not have any regrets in being in this field of art. I think, in today’s world, when it is easy to sit at your own convenience and access any part of the world — and observe dance on YouTube and other networking sites, it becomes our duty to constantly create interest and prepare things as challenging as possible, so that people are drawn to it.

We need to give youth something fresh, we need to engage them positively and challenge their imagination. And go beyond the usual. We cannot always offer something that belongs to the past, yes, it has roots in the past, but it needs to be constantly rejuvenated — it should be alive and thriving.

She also points out that, “Sometimes classical dancers forget that it becomes claustrophobic to be clung to a particular form. While keeping the roots alive, we need to move on. All great traditions will die if they are not fed. They have to be like a flowing river — constantly gathering from environment, flowing through different cliffs and valleys… that’s what we need to do with our art, and that is what I endeavour in my productions.”

Does she dream ahead? “Well, one of my dreams is to see Indian classical dance on world stage. There are many dance festivals all over the world, and unless they are India-centric, Indian dancers don’t get invited. So, it is my dream for all great Indian dancers to be able to take our art there and be able to perform at these mainstream venues.”

On asking where she sees herself 10 years from now, she says, “I really can’t say where I would be and what I would be doing. But I do hope I keep performing with the same passion, vigour, interest and sincerity. I do hope I retain my honesty, my sense of wonder, and hope it is possible for me to live in the moment.”

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