Watching Bahok at Birmingham Rep Theatre in 2008: This was the first time I had seen a work by world-renowned dancer/choreographer Akram Khan. I remember going with my family to watch, not knowing what to expect. This show remains a vivid memory, a clear moment of feeling wowed and inspired. Seeing works created and performed by him have been a continued inspiration throughout my dance journey. In 2018, I treated my parents to watch Xenos at Sadler’s Wells, which was announced as Akram Khan’s final production that he’d be performing in.
Hearing my name announced in the South Asian Category Finals of the inaugural BBC Young Dancer 2015 competition: I was on a gap year to see how focusing on dance would be after completing my A levels. Luckily, The BBC Young Dance 2015 launched that same year with a category for South Asian dance among hip hop, ballet, and contemporary dance. I tried my best, while just being happy to be there and pushed myself to work harder during the lead up to each stage. This was the first time I was working with my teacher on a solo performance and collaborating with incredible musician Shammi Pithia, who I reached out to for the stage where we had to choose a duet partner. I was competing alongside friends and amazing dancers, and knew winning would mean a lifetime opportunity to perform at the prestigious Sadler’s Wells. I hadn’t expected this result at all.
Seeing Sylvie Guillem’s farewell performance at Birmingham Hippodrome 2015: It was the first and last time I would witness French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem’s greatness live on stage. It was a last-minute ticket to accompany Piali Ray for the performance as someone had dropped out. I was blown away by her ability, skill and command of the space, her body and the audience. For me it was magic. Not only her performance but to witness her being showered with roses by audiences was a sight, accompanied by rapturous applause. It’s something I won’t forget. A bitter but sweet memory, wishing I had seen her dance before, but grateful to see her farewell performance.
Preparing for my manch pravesh: This was one of the longest periods of time I spent staying with my Guruji Sujata Banerjee, who is based in London. All day I would dance, rehearse in the studio and witness my Guruji’s lifestyle up close. It was such a special time for so many reasons, working towards my manch pravesh. The process of it was so memorable. Dancing and performing at my manch pravesh, accompanied by my dance teacher on stage: I never imagined doing this, but definitely wished to one day, not knowing how. The manch pravesh is a Kathak graduation (not mandatory), which takes place when the guru feels the student has reached a certain stage in her training. It was an honour to be given this chance and rise to the challenge of performing two hours of a Kathak repertoire accompanied by live musicians, for an invited audience.
An Italian In Madrid rehearsal, production and tour: I became more aware of the wider industry after BBC Young Dancer competition. I was invited to join the Richard Alston Dance Company in 2015 after being seen by the godfather of contemporary dance in the UK, Sir Richard Alston. It was a life changing experience being able to join a touring company of 10 full-time professional contemporary dancers. Richard made a full-length piece, An Italian In Madrid, where I danced alongside the company dancers. During rehearsal, I would just sit and watch, which was something I enjoyed, regardless of how many times I’d seen the pieces. The works seemed new and exciting each time.
Touring India while performing in Akademi’s production The Troth: This team and whole production will remain with me forever. The Troth tells a story of love, loss and sacrifice against the backdrop of World War 1. Envisioned by former artistic director of Akademi Mira Kaushik and choreographed by Gary Clarke, we toured India and the UK in 2018. We performed at prestigious venues, including Jaipur Literature Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Southbank Centre in London. One of my most treasured moments was performing at the President’s House in India for 100 war veterans and hearing their rewarding comments. We travelled by train on five to 10 hour journeys, but we saw the true India. I had travelled like this with my family in India, but this was the first time I was travelling and touring with dance.
Performing the piece Empire: My first performance of 2020 is a solo piece created by award-winning duo Thick and Tight (Eleanor Perry and Daniel Hay-Gordon), which saw me dance as Winston Churchill at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Bayliss theatre. This piece draws light on Churchill and the immense suffering caused in India and beyond during the British Empire. The choreographers highlighted how past and present immigration and foreign policies continue to affect those home and abroad in devastating ways.
Arriving in Goa for the Serendipity Festival: In 2017, contemporary dancer Connor Scott, composer/ multi instrumentalist Shammi Pithia and myself collaborated to create the piece About The Elephant, which was commissioned by Sampad Arts and Serendipity Festival, to be premiered in Goa, India. Being at this festival among other artists from all sectors of art was special and nerve-racking. I still remember Shammi’s sound check and his original score captivating the auditorium. The audience was full and a lot of supportive familiar artists from the UK industry were also there cheering us on.
Listening to the Sukanya score, played by London Philharmonic Orchestra: Sukanya is a unique opera, which Pandit Ravi Shankar was working on at the time of his passing in 2012. I first encountered this production in its research and development phases, and saw it twice in 2017 when the full production was on tour. Luckily, I was bought on to this production for its return in 2020. One of the most special moments was walking in to the rehearsals of London Philharmonic Orchestra playing this incredible score for the first time with the other dancers and our choreographer. We all had goose bumps. I knew we were listening to something historic and felt the legend’s presence living on in the music itself.
Vidya Patel is a Birmingham based acclaimed Kathak dancer and co-founder of virtual dance organisation Manch UK. Visit Instagram:_vidyapatel & Twitter: @VidyaPatel96