Fall 2021 In Dance


I was in my element. Learning how to craft choreographic works, how to manipulate time, space, and energy, was life-changing. To this day, I draw from the notes from my choreogra- phy classes with Fred Mathews. As an Indian immigrant with both formal and informal training in diverse dance forms, I have devel- oped an Indian Contemporary cho- reographic practice that references various dance styles based on the con- cept of the work. Sometimes I make a conscious choice to dissect form, adding petit allegro footwork from

Even though many artists are drawn to Indian Contemporary because it allows room for individual expres- sion, those coming from classical dance backgrounds often face deri- sion. There is this underlying anx- iety about the dilution of Classical dance forms when they step into the contemporary space. Some believe that the purity of the Classical form has to be preserved while others are less concerned with preservation and more interested in artistic evolution. Traditionalists often become cultural gatekeepers who don’t want to see these dance forms diluted or used in settings that they deem inappropriate. Indian Contemporary is an idiom that acknowledges but is not bound by tradition. My style is born of a col- lision of tradition and innovation, one that reflects my reality as an immi- grant, Indian woman. It provides a way of creating that enables me to be true to who I am. I believe that a dance form is not more sacrosanct than the artists who embody it. Indian Contemporary helps me to acknowl- edge my childhood learning while articulating the importance of formal training. The body memories of these different forms enable me to create in a richer way than if I were to chase the elusive purity of a single form. It is also an act of resistance to value cultural and folk dance forms rather than seeing them as less than Indian Classical and Euro-centric dance forms. Indian Contemporary dance is a living, breathing, ever-changing, and evolving form, so my idea of it keeps evolving as well. Ultimately, I choose my own voice, messy with overlap- ping textures, a disarray of roots but with endless possibilities to explore. ISHIKA SETH (she/her) is a South Asian chore- ographer, dancer, dance educator, immigrant, storyteller & mom based in the Bay Area. She was the Assistant Artistic Director of the Mona Khan Company from 2011-21. Since 2007, Ishika has presented her work at various venues in & around the Bay Area and also self-produced shows at NOHSpace & CounterPULSE in collaboration with other artists .

interested in abstraction and more in excavating stories from my life, expe- riences, culture, and engaging with social and political issues. For dancers who practice South Asian Classical Dance forms, just stretching the boundaries of a partic- ular form can push it into the realm of contemporary. But to an audi- ence only vaguely familiar with, say, Bharatanatyam, it may still resemble Bharatanatyam; they may not see the nuanced changes, the deliberate bend- ing of form, the subtle breaking from tradition. The practitioner, however,


TRADITIONALISTS OFTEN BECOME cultural gatekeepers who don’t want to see these dance forms diluted or used in settings that they deem inappropriate.

Prior to Covid, I had often thought of producing a “(wo)man on the street”-style series where I would chat up dancers and dance sup- porters outside of classes, perfor- mances, auditions, studios, etc. Since last year that idea has shifted and manifested itself into a 10 minute Zoom interview where we gave absolutely no heads up about potential questions to the interviewees. Ha! They only knew they’d be asked about their dance background and cur- rent artistry. And I did ask them to show us their favorite dance move. Enjoy! Quick insights with the local Bay Area Dance Community

Alyssa Mitchel

ballet to Kathak hand gestures, for example. But mostly, the release and flow of contemporary, hand gestures of Kathak, the expressiveness and lyri- cism of Bollywood, narrative structure of Indian Classical dance, contrac- tions and swings from modern dance, vocabulary from Mayurbhanj Chhau, and most recently, elements of waack- ing emerge together on their own. In addition to drawing from the multiple techniques I’ve studied, my version of Indian Contemporary Dance relies heavily on storytelling. Storytelling is an intrinsic part of South Asian culture, and for me, it is the act of storytelling rather than the traditional stories themselves that influence the form. Initially, after graduating from SJSU, my works were more abstract and modern. But a decade of dancing with Mona Khan Company added a lyrical element to my choreography. Even in Bolly- wood, the lyrical interpretation orig- inates from Classical dance forms where the mudras (hand gestures) are deeply meaningful and can be very specific, like depicting a tree, or a bow and arrow. Now, most of my works evoke a theme or idea, and I am less

may identify as an Indian Contem- porary artist because they are delib- erately dissecting the form or using traditional movement to explore con- temporary themes. For example, Nava Dance Theater uses Bharatanatyam to explore contemporary themes such as the MeToo movement. Even though the movement draws from Nava artis- tic director Nadhi Thakkek’s training in Bharatanatyam, training her danc- ers share, the themes are contempo- rary. New York-based artist Amita Batra defines herself as a storytelling artist who draws inspiration from the ideologies and techniques of various dance styles, most prominently mod- ern, contemporary, and kathak. And Amit Patel, a Bay Area artist, blends Indian and Western dance forms to break gender stereotypes and explore his identity as a first-generation Amer- ican and Queer Desi. Further, the diversity of South Asian classical and folk dance forms further complicates any effort to define an Indian Contem- porary aesthetic. An Indian Contem- porary dancer with an Odissi back- ground looks different from someone with Kathak training, or another who primarily practices Garba.

Jessica Recinos

Sawako Gannon

in dance SUMMER 2021


in dance FALL 2021 28

FALL 2021 in dance 29




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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