STAR TURN: Vidya Patel; and (below) in The Troth


A BIG star of this year’s Alchemy Festival is sparkling dancer Vidya Patel, who will be performing in contrasting productions About The Elephant and The Troth.

The latter is the latest production from my favourite dance company Akademi, who have always consistently created visually spectacular pieces on stage.

The Troth tells a story of love, loss and sacrifice against the backdrop of the horror and conflict of World War 1.

It is based on Chandradhar Sharma Guleri’s iconic Hindi short story Usne Kaha Tha and inspired by the era of black and white cinema as it weaves a poignant narra­tive through dance, music and film.

This is the latest eye-catching piece star­ring the acclaimed kathak artist, who was a 2015 finalist of the BBC Young Dancer com­petition. I caught up with Vidya to talk about her journey in dance, The Troth and more.

What first connected you to dance?

My parents were the ones who took us to dance classes. They connected my two old­er sisters and I to dance. We didn’t have art­ists in earlier generations of my family, but my parents’ passion for arts and Indian classical music encouraged them to intro­duce us to these.

What kind of dance projects inspire you?

I find it is not always the projects but the people who are involved during the whole process which fascinates me. I get inspired to see timeless, classic work and when ex­tremities of movements are used.

Tell us about The Troth

The Troth is a hard-hitting love story set in the backdrop of World War 1 written by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri in 1915. It moves from a rural setting in Amritsar to the horrors of Belgian trenches. It has been produced by Akademi and beautifully cre­ated by British contemporary choreogra­pher Gary Clarke, who uses powerful physi­cal dance to narrate the complex story.

How does this compare to other projects you have done?

The project involves narrative-based story­telling. It is very interesting to reflect on the whole process that Gary adopted to create the piece. A large number of artistic advi­sors and collaborators were involved, from dramaturg Lou Cope to academician Dr Shantanu Das and many more.

They would attend rehearsals to give their views on what was being made and how it aligned with history, story and reali­ty. We even had advisors from the National School of Drama in India during the initial phase of development. While touring this show in India, we were joined by Mira Kau­shik, director of Akademi. Seeing India through touring this piece and her eyes was a very memorable experience.

What is your favourite moment in the production?

For me, ‘the promise’ is one of my favourite moments from the story and parts I perform in the production. It is a different way of movement from the classical kathak form I’m used to, but it beautifully conveys such a crucial bit of the story. ­

There are so many special moments in the piece, which I luckily get to watch up close while standing in the wings. I also like the original music score com­posed by Shri Sriram, which is very spe­cial to experience and perform to.

The music itself is so beautiful to lis­ten to, at times hauntingly so. The Troth is an audio cinematic experience of the 100-year old story.

This is set during World War 1, but did you learn anything new while working on this?

While working as part of The Troth, I got to know of the shocking facts about the number of Indian soldiers who died serving in the Brit­ish army during the war. I also realised how much is not discussed or taught to us, especially in regards to British colonial rule, which is a massive part of our history.

What do you think is the secret of a great dance performance?

Commitment to doing the best in that moment! If a dancer can make a con­nection with a stranger in the audience while performing and they feel the emotions portrayed, that is everything.

How much are you looking forward to being part of Alchemy?

I am really looking forward to being on the other side at this beautiful venue where I’ve been in the audience many times before.

Who is your dance hero?

I have so many dance heroes, so the list is endless and always evolving. From a young age, as cliché as it sounds, I was always inspired by Bollywood actors like Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi. They were my first ever dance heroes.

If you could learn a new dance form, what would it be?

I think if I could learn a new dance form, it would be ballet! I find it incredi­ble to see what the human body is capa­ble of doing through this classical form.

What inspires you?

Origins, history, as well as nature!

Why should we come out and watch The Troth?

The story will take you through a rollercoaster of emotions. If you are a dance lover, interested in history, a culture vul­ture or curious to see how a British contem­porary choreographer has transformed an Indian text into a dance production, you need to come and watch it.

Why do you love dance?

Dance is another way of reaching out to people and uniting them. It a combined form of creativity and discipline. It can reflect the way people think, give audi­ences another perspective and world to delve into.

  • Vidya Patel will perform in The Troth at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 5 at 7.30pm, and About the Elephant at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on May 6 at 7.45pm. Tickets are available at