by LAUREN CODLING and SHIVANI GOVINDIA
AN ASIAN dancer has said she hopes to shift perspectives on the misconceptions surrounding the art form as she debuted her latest show earlier this month.
Seeta Patel is a Bharatnatyam dancer, whose new production Not Today’s Yesterday has been touring the UK since the beginning of October.
The performer, however, believes dance has a “bad” reputation that can seem alienating and hard to understand.
“Contemporary dance especially,” she told Eastern Eye. “But I really think that dance can reach people in ways other art forms don’t.”
Patel cited its physicality and visuality as factors which can help communicate to audiences.
Dance does have the capacity to engage with people, she said, and if the work is political, the medium can bring a new voice to the debate.
The piece, created by Patel and award-winning choreographer Lina Limosani, won the Adelaide (Australia) Artist Fringe Fund and the Best Dance and Peace Foundation Award at the Adelaide Fringe Festival this year.
The dance is a solo performance and Patel revealed it was a great challenge. But, as Bharatanatyam is usually presented in a soloist format, she felt she was able to draw upon her own experiences. She added the biggest pressure of working alone on stage is keeping the audience engaged.
“There’s also nowhere to hide,” she said. “It’s very exposing, but also exhilarating.”
In the past Bharatnatyam was taught to Devadesi women, a term used to describe girls who are dedicated to serve a temple for their lifetime. They practised the classical dance form as part of their ritual in worshipping the deity.
However, Patel thinks the historical background of the art is more complex than some people understand.
“It went beyond the temple, and the systems and structures in place to support the arts were fascinating,” she explained. “It has been important for me to learn about the socio-political history of Bharatanatyam to be able to practice it genuinely, mindfully and understand how I can contextualise it today.”
Having initially started dancing at the age of 10, Patel has had an extensive career in the industry. She has toured with several theatre and dance companies, as well as debuted work in prestigious venues such as the Royal Opera House.
The Londoner also acted as a judge, mentor and advisor for the first ever BBC Young Dancer competition in 2015.
Asked what she looked for in a piece when she was approached by young performers, she explained it was more about the execution rather than the choreography.
“The young dancers are being assessed on their ability as dancers not as choreographers, so it would be unfair to judge them on the content of the work,” she said. “In terms of dance I am looking for a range of things, from technique to clarity, musicality, stage presence, and much more.”
When creating a new piece, Patel admits it can occasionally be a case of trial and error. There are often happy surprises but she relies on her instinct to put a performance together.
“I think it’s important to be open to making mistakes and trying things out to be sure they are not the right thing, as well as those things that feels good,” she added.
Not Today’s Yesterday will be shown at Kala Sangam, Bradford on October 13 and the Birmingham Patrick Centre on October 23.