Through this monthly series of ShowCase Events, it is our endeavour to highlight those exceptional artists who excel in their craft, staying true to its essence through their many experiments. This month, we speak to Kathak and Lavani exponent Aditi Bhagwat who dons many hats - dancer, teacher, and artist extraordinaire. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q1. Please tell us about your journey in the field of dance so far.
Ans: I was trained in Odissi dance for ten years, but my forte is Kathak. Since then, I have also branched out to try other dances, especially Lavani. My artistic journey with Kathak started when I was four, thanks to my mother Ragini Bhagwat, who was a classical singer. She had a keen interest in Ghazals, Bhajans and a variety of music. I grew up amidst a cultural background of Hindustani music, film music, folk music, etc. She saw my interest in dancing and took me to my Guru - Padma Shri Dr Roshan Kumari ji. As we all know, she has her own legacy as a performer and movie star. She had a very disciplined and dedicated approach to teaching and learning Kathak.
I also learnt under her senior disciple Nandita Puri – they both had a huge influence on my dancing. Later on, in the last 10 years, I have attended workshops of Taalyogi Suresh Talwalkar where I sought knowledge about Taal, Rhythm, Laya. I also trained with Tabla maestro Yogesh Shamsi. I have learnt Tabla based compositions from him which I often incorporate in my dance practice and performances. I carried my love for dance into my teen years when I went to college. My first performance was at the Governor’s residence in Raj Bhavan, when Mr P C Alexander was the Governor. It was a great experience performing for such an esteemed audience. Then I started performing at festivals like Kala Ghoda, and visited America, London, and other places. I have toured a lot with dance productions, and with programs like Kathak Flamenco, Kathak Lavani, Kathak and Jazz with Louis Banks.
Q2. Has it been difficult for you to forge a path for this classical dance form in today’s day and age?
Ans. I wouldn’t say so, in fact, there is quite a demand for Kathak. However, at least 50 percent of the students want to train in the form with the sole purpose and goal of performing within six months. This is very different from what our goal was when we started learning. It is difficult to make them understand the importance of patience and honing one’s craft.Fortunately, I have a batch of 15 dedicated students training with me for a very long time.They dedicate the time to understand the art form, which is so important.
In a city like Mumbai, where classical arts are pitched against pop culture and Bollywood, it is always a big challenge to get sponsored events, shows, performances that feature original or classical dance content. It is tough to convince organisers that Kathak can still be very entertaining. I try to bridge that gap through my collaborations like Kathak Flamenco when I performed with Bettina Castaño. These took off really well because they have a quotient of entertainment. For people it’s a novelty to see two art forms come together like that.
Q3. Please tell us about your practice of Lavani. As you are one of few exponents of this dance form, how do you keep interest in it alive?
Ans. I belong to the state of Maharashtra. My mother used to perform folk music and especially Lavani, so I grew up listening to it. From the age of 18-26, I performed at a lot of Lavani Mahotsavs where I saw senior artists perform Lavani in the Paramparik Gharanas. It was so amazing to see them transform into divas on stage, and that glued me to Lavani. There was a richness in poetry and culture, and the use of the Ghungroos. I also relate to the medium of the Dholki really well. I first formally trained in the Dholki with Anant Panchal ji-he is one of the finest Dholki maestros in our country. He taught me to understand Dholki delivery and the Adakari and Abhinaya without just
relying on footwork. Lavani helps me express the other side of my personality – the eroticism and sensuality. You can be flamboyant and charismatic and outgoing on stage, it’s a very extroverted art form, I enjoy exploring these facets of my personality through Lavani. The audience loves it too, as I always get great feedback from them.
Q4. Please tell us about your association with ShowCase Events.
Ans. Nanni ji and I did a project together during the lockdown after Dhanashree Pandit Rai introduced us. I haven’t met her but feel like we know each other well. I look forward to working with her more and she comes across as a wonderful person. She is such a gentle human being, and it’s amazing how much she understands artists and art forms. She may not be a practicing dancer or singer or musician, but she can understand the artist, their mindsets, and can decipher good from bad. I hope to work with her more in the future.
Q5. How was your experience of working on the song Synthesis – The Indian Muse?
Ans. It was lovely. The minute I turned the camera on, and the music played, my movements just started, I didn’t have to think twice. It just flowed so naturally and had its own rhythm; I remember shooting it at one go. So happy to see that in the edit they used the right mudras I had wanted to show to convey what I felt in that moment with that song. It was also a great effort to get so many musicians together and have it recorded. Ravi Iyer is a good friend too and it felt wonderful to work with so many talented people. And thanks to the project, I also met Nanni ji.
Q6. Any exciting projects in the works?
Ans. I’m working on expanding my dance course for students. I recently conducted a dance and theatre workshop at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai for kids, it was about storytelling through expressions in dance - storytelling without the use of words. That’s what we do in dance. But we made it more contemporary with things like sign language and tapping of the feet, using rhythm to express a story, to help kids understand and familiarise them with the language of dance. The idea is to bring the newer generation close to their roots through stories and ideas of contemporary times. I’m also trying to devise similar modules for schools at the moment. Also, hopefully once things get into full swing, I hope to resume travel projects – my scheduled tours to Hong Kong and Spain.
Q7. What advice do you have for people entering this field now?
Ans. It is quite a tough journey to stay afloat. Covid made things way more difficult for artists. In my Psychology course, we had learnt that the more self-concepts you have, the higher your self-esteem. For younger artists, it’s very important to cultivate many interests.We are not at a time and age where we can do one thing and stick by it. You must explore as many avenues as possible. Keep a wide vision of the world and an open mind to get out of your comfort zone. There is very tough competition out there, so more than dedication, it takes hours of practice, humility, good presentation skills, intelligence, knowledge, and communication skills. You must have a truly global approach in your art form in order to survive. You should also bear the responsibility of carrying your own cultural roots into the immediate future.
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