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Vidya Patel Image credit: Jack Thomson

Vidya Patel- Finding my Voice

Ahead of the premiere of Don’t Mind Me, one of the four dance works by the Sadler’s Wells Young Associates, Vidya Patel talks to Sanjeevini Dutta about her dance journey.


Image credit: Jack Thomson

‘When you buy a ticket, it won’t be me dancing’ cautions Vidya Patel. That comes as a bit of a shock for those who remember Vidya as the winner of the first BBC Young Dancer- (South Asian dance category) competition back in 2015. When most dancers her age are eagerly pushing their performance careers, Vidya has opted to step back and also to make dance on others. 

As a Sadler’s Wells Young Associate, Vidya joins a cohort of three other young dance makers who are nearing the end of their initial two-year appointment, extended a year due to Covid, to hone their choreographic skills. Each of the four has created a work of twenty minutes, under the mentorship of Ben Duke (Lost Dog) which premieres at Sadler’s Well main stage on Wednesday 26 October. 

The pace at which Vidya’s dance journey has moved has been relentless. In 2008 the CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) a talent development programme was being piloted in Birmingham. Vidya was on the first batch and remained with the scheme until 2014. Through the programme she met Sujata Banerjee kathak guru and came under her wing, training intensively. In 2015 came BBC Young Dancer when she performed on the Sadler’s Wells stage and had the mind expanding experience of watching dancers of other genres at close range. 

Her friendship with the overall winner, contemporary dancer Connor Scott later developed into a co collaboration with Shammi Pithia and Connor Scott, and About an Elephant was born. It toured the UK and the Serendipity Festival in Goa. During the years 2016-2018 Vidya was invited as a guest artist to perform in An Italian in Madrid with Richard Alston Dance Company. University was shelved indefinitely.

Vidya recalls how green she felt when she first started, ‘I had never done a ballet or contemporary class before, and here I was surrounded by dancers at their peak’. It is a testament to Vidya’s spirit that she joined in with the ‘leaps and jumps’ trusting her kathak training to sustain her. Next came The Troth produced by Akademi and choreographed by Gary Clarke in which she plays a Punjabi woman from the famous story Usne Kaha Tha by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, set against the backdrop of the First World War.

A milestone for Vidya came during her time as an Associate Artist at Deda in Derby. Director Phil Hargreaves encouraged Vidya to apply for a Developing your Creative Practice grant to transition from a dancer to choreographer. She was successful and has built on that with a string of pieces: Hey Honey for third year students of Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, acting debut in Hetain Patel’s Trinity and working with musicians Sarathy Korwar and Abi Sampa.

The range and variety of Vidya’s work grows. Commenting on a solo piece created by Hetain Patel on Vidya and performed live on zoom during the pandemic, I had written, ‘When all of a sudden, Vidya transforms into a ten-year-old character from comics, with a Southern drawl, I nearly fall off my chair! Today we saw a side of Vidya that we never expected- cheeky, edgy and playful!’.

Vidya asserts that she is deep in the process of discovering her voice. ‘I need to find out what I have to say’. This may be so open as to cause anxiety to others, but Vidya has thrived on the mission. Each piece that she has danced in or created has been like a ‘time-capsule’ of her life at a point in time. Working with Hetain Patel gave her the confidence that she could absorb and master another physical discipline like martial arts and acting on screen. From Gauri Divarker, Gary Clarke and Richard Alston Dance Company lessons in professionalism, production values of set, design and lighting. ‘All these elements are shaping me. Kathak will always be my foundation, but a whole world of art has been opened up for me’.

It is exciting to follow Vidya’s journey in dance. Her new work with five dancers, music composition by long term collaborator Shammi Pithia, spoken word by Zia Ahmed, and set by Shankho Chaudhuri hold out hope for more South Asian artists on mainstream stages.  Also for new stories experience and world views to emerge in contemporary dance. We hope that this will not put too much responsibility on young shoulders, we are just looking forward to being there at To Start With to check out where Vidya has arrived.

The World Premiere of To Start With is at Sadler’s Wells on Wednesday 26 October featuring John-William Watson, Magnus Westwell, Olive Hardy and Vidya Patel.


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