Aditi Mangaldas In Conversation

Within | Photo: Nono Chawla

Aditi Mangaldas is one of the foremost kathak dancers of India; dynamic, charismatic and thoughtful, her solo and group choreography gives a contemporary face to an ancient art form. Her Company Drishtikon's appearance at the Alchemy Festival, South Bank Centre on 22nd and 23rd May 2014 is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the season.

Sanjeevini Dutta talks to Aditi on Skype to find out more about the piece Within, that will have its UK Première at the QEH next week.

What was the inspiration for Within and how did it develop?

Within started as a look at relationships – from the classical stories of Siva Shakti and a lot of other mythological stories, but then took a completely different arc. The idea of brutality kept confronting us: the hate stories in the media, the brutality within relationships and social issues that feed it. The final trigger was the Nirbhaya incident which shook us to the core : how could a sixteen year old be capable of performing such a brutal act? He couldn’t have been born that way so what circumstances pushed him? In that case do we not all have the capacity for hate and brutality? I did not feel equipped to look at the societal issues, but thought that I wanted to look within (the title of the piece). If we could hold up a mirror to reflect our nature, then there's the possibility of change.

How did you research the piece and did you use an outside eye?

I talked to a lot of people. Ragini Pasreecha, Shubha Mudgal's sister helped a lot with the research. Morag Deyes (Director of Dance Base, Edinburgh) the artistic mentor, kept an eye on the development through weekly skypes. The standing company of dancers and musicians who have been with me for between three and seven years are the core and we were joined by a dramaturg (Vani Subramanian) later in the development and the fabulous Fabiana Piciolli, the lighting designer. A work on this scale has to be a collaboration, it is not a personal journey, it is a human journey.

The show is in two sections: Knotted and Unwrapped, loosely the contemporary and kathak halves. Did you not consider making one organic whole?

Originally we did not want to separate it, but there were many practical problems. When I dance kathak, I dance kathak: it has to have a certain approach and has to maintain the aesthetic structure of kathak. There is also the issue of our movement vocabulary which is rooted in kathak even though we have learned yoga and martial arts which we use in the first half (I feel that the yoga and the martial arts are fed to the seed of kathak, nurturing a new tree that grows from that seed). It was very difficult practically to move between the two, the free form (interviewer's word) and kathak.

I did not NOT separate the two for audience experience but more because I felt that raw brutality would not find resonance in the vocabulary of classical kathak. So we separated the two…the first being brutal and disturbing…the second bringing hope.  Secondly it's an issue of audience experience. There were many in the Delhi audience (Within premièred in September 2013) who were very disturbed by what they saw. Audiences in India are not used to seeing anything unsettling. I wanted the disturbing first half to remain in one’s mind through the intermission so that the unfurling would have a sense of urgency The second half has the shades of grey in which truth lies. The inspiration was the Jain statue of the Siddha, which is the outline of the form through which one sees the space and emptiness. It's the concept that all is only space on which we project our thoughts noble or base. You can see the sky or the walls of a prison, it is up to you.

What are your thoughts on the prospect of a Modi government?

If Mr. Modi gets in it's going to be a disaster. Its going to corrupt this fabulous nation which has been inclusive, always. We have many problems but at least the central ideology is not divisive, it is not based on the grand farce of thinking that we (Hindus) have descended from another universe. If the core of the country gets changed if our textbooks get re-written, if we loose our fundamental belief in diversity, then I fear for this nation.

Aditi Mangaldas will be performing Within at the QEH, South Bank Centre on Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd May 2014 as part of the Alchemy Festival