When she was about six or seven years old, Aditi Bhagwat’s favourite game involved putting on a pretty ghagra-choli, seating all her soft toys in a row and performing classical dance routines for them. When she wasn’t dancing for her captive audience, she was busy “teaching” them and calling out the bol and taal the way her dance guru (who she’d been taking Kathak lessons from since the age of four) would.
Today, Aditi has grown to be an eminent danseuse, known not just for her Kathak recitals, but also for the creative collaborations forged between this classical form and other traditions like the thumri and lavani. Her success also owes no small part to her prowess as a “foot percussionist”, for which she was recently awarded a prestigious OneBeat Fellowship in the US.
“It is in my intrinsic nature to explore,” says Aditi, explaining why she’s constantly pushing the boundaries of her art. “All of the collaborations I’ve worked on, they’ve stemmed from a creative urge. Even when I was performing (pure) Kathak, I was always trying to incorporate new elements and that crossing of boundaries transcended (into my other work as well).”
It is her collaborative efforts that truly set Aditi’s work apart. They’ve seen her perform at a rock music festival in France, in front of a crowd that was “tattooed, shirtless, togged out in leather pants and mohawks’ with a “Kathak-electronica” group. “For a moment, before I went up on stage, I thought,
‘yahaan par Kathak karna hai?’” Aditi recounts with a laugh. With her large, bell-like ghungroos (the style favoured by the Jaipur gharana) as her instrument and accompaniment by techno musicians from Tel Aviv, Aditi managed to hold the crowd in thrall.
However, her most successful collaboration by far has been with jazz musician Louis Banks. As a Maharashtrian, Aditi was always interested in the indigenous dance style of lavani and began incorporating it into her performances. Then, at an event organised by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations in 2003, Louiz Banks saw Aditi perform the lavani. He immediately suggested a jazz-lavani collaboration, which was presented for the first time at the Celebrate Bandra festival (a popular cultural event in the Mumbai suburb). “The audience was so appreciative because they’d never seen the lavani presented that way before,” says Aditi. “The general perception is that lavani is a vulgar dance form and not suitable for a family audience. I may not be able to transform an entire dance form, but I can help change people’s perceptions of it.”
It is perhaps with that aim that Aditi has worked with musicians like Sivamani, Merlin D’Souza, Rod Williams and Bela Szakcsi Lakatos over the last few years. “It’s all about opening your mind to different possibilities,” she explains.
Aditi’s just wrapped up a Kathak-thumri production with Dhanashree Pandit Rai for the Indian Heritage Society’s annual cultural festival and will soon start work on a Marathi movie (she’s appeared in several, and was previously part of the TV show Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Madhur Bhandarkar’s film 'Traffic Signal').
For Aditi, who knew when she gave her debut solo dance performance at the age of 16 that this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, there could be nothing better than taking up a new challenge, a new opportunity to shatter preconceived notions about dance. Especially if it helps generate renewed interest in what’s an essential and invaluable part of our heritage.
“Our art forms will never be extinct, but they are being ignored. Sometimes you come across people who think Kathak and Kathakali are the same thing!” Aditi rues, adding, “I feel my responsibility to perform better has grown; to seek some medium — whether it is fusion music or a collaborative production — that will reach out to a younger audience.”...