Pulse Preview - Kathak Innovators in the UK: Aakash Odedra

Credit: Nisha Kajal Patel

London audiences will be treated to a real gem of a performance this weekend as Aakash Odedra takes to the stage at The Place on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February.  Pulse caught up with Odedra ahead of the show to probe him on his kathak journey thus far.   

Odedra, who spent most of last year in the studio working with three big names on the international contemporary dance scene - namely Russel Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Akram Khan, compares his experience of working with choreographers from different dance worlds.  “In kathak there’s a formality and if you don’t learn the formality then you don’t learn the art form.”, he begins.  “There’s that level of respect, the behaviour and mannerisms in the class but with the choreographers it’s completely different.  You have to be completely open and be ready to make a complete fool of yourself because, if you don’t do that then you won’t be able to open up to the next phase in your dance.”  Whilst there is a distinction between what the kathak Guru and the contemporary “Guru” require of their muse, in essence, they are both striving for the same thing.  Odedra adds:“the intention and the honesty that you have to bring to what you’re doing has to remain true.” In other words the artists integrity must always remain intact, regardless.  

Our Rising star began his kathak journey with began his training with Nilima Devi at the age of eight but there were early signs of a dancer waiting to get out long before that.  “As I grew up everything was dance.”, he begins, “...from how to open a door; close a door; pick up a glass.  I used to play with coins on the table and shift them and I used to think: if these were dancers where would I place them?  Now I look at it and I think of it as choreography...”.  Choreography is a relatively new concept in the classical Indian arts but one area which has always remained is abhinaya, the choreography of expression if you like.  When asked about the complexities of abhinaya, Odedra expresses his belief that a good dancer can transcend the difficulties in cultural translation.  “I think if it’s done well people will understand”, he begins, “but sometimes even we, who have trained in kathak, find it hard to understand.  But if its done really well then there’s no need for explanation or anything.”  For someone who’s dubbed as “the rising star of South Asian dance”, Odedra has a tremendous amount of understanding and appreciation for the form.  He tells me about a compliment someone once gave him, “This person said to me ‘what’s nice is that your nritta has abhinaya; your technique has expression.’ We classify abhinaya and dance as separate things but why can’t dance be abhinaya?”  He touches on a core issue, why are the two separate. 
I became incredibly impressed by the maturity and depth of thought in this emerging artist and it made interviewing him all the more interesting.  Odedra observes the way the form is evolving with remarkable insight, he says: “when it was performed in the temples it had a different body language, lines and intention it was about the gods and goddesses, then it went to the courts it changed with all the poetry the movements became more lyrical.  Now we’re in a different place, this urban environment and the way we practice it reflects that urban environment.”  
Excerpts taken from an article in our forthcoming spring issue which looks at four innovative kathak artists based in the UK.  More to follow soon, keep your eyes peeled.