Dancing on my own

Contemporary dancer Aakash Odedra, on the fast-track to stardom, makes a stop in the cityto honour his gurus

February 21, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 05:39 am IST

Aakash Odedra, a British-Indian, is one of the rising stars of contemporary dance.— Photo: Special arrangement

Aakash Odedra, a British-Indian, is one of the rising stars of contemporary dance.— Photo: Special arrangement

To be a dancer, you have to sacrifice everything. You have to detach yourself and immerse yourself in the loneliness that will encompass your entire life. However, to truly experience the nirvana of dancing, in an almost ironic twist of fate, you will also have to learn to connect with people; without words, just using your body to convey what your performance is. “You can be in an auditorium of 3,000 people and you can be the loneliest person on the planet. But you’re alone onstage and find yourself connecting with so many people,” says Aakash Odedra, a British-Indian dancer, one of the rising stars of contemporary dance. “You’re always observing and taking in because it doesn’t attach me to the centre of ‘I’, to the centre of ego. That’s how I stay grounded.” According to Odedra, you surrender yourself, like a relationship you can’t live with or without. It’s like “a partner who is pulling you away from the world and bringing you into a world that only exists in the mind. And the only way to express it is through the physical.”

In the beginning, Odedra just happened to be born with what probably requires years of practice for most people. As an infant, he learned to walk on his toes, and with that, everyone knew where his future would lie. Hailing from a family of Kathiawar Gujaratis, this fifth-generation British-Indian embraced dance at an exceptionally young age. “My journey started before I even understood what dance was. There was a reaction to music,” explains Odedra. “Anytime someone would play music, I would dance, anytime I was happy I would dance, anytime I was sad I would do some sort of dance. I was like a fish in water.” When he did start formally learning Kathak, Odedra never considered it to be a chore, giving himself entirely to the art.

As a child, the Odedra family frequently travelled to India, even visiting their home in Bandra, a farm that has now been transformed into Rizvi Complex. However, it wasn’t until the dancer quit school at 15 and moved to Maximum City for three years, did he finally find his Indian connection. “They say home is where the heart is, so I found my home,” he says. “I wanted to get out of the UK, to go away from everything that I was familiar with. I had to find myself, who I was from within.” Here, in Mumbai, he discovered what was dormant for several years; that there’s something intrinsically Indian about him, something that transcends his genealogy. He explained this as a link to Hindu mythology; the gods and goddesses filling his mind with fantasy. Unfortunately, this was also the time that Odedra lost his brother to a train accident. “Something shifted within me,” he says. “That was the exact time I found Shiamak (Daavar) and Chhaya (Kantaveh) aunty.” This evening, he will pay tribute to two of the most important people in his life with an hour-long contemporary solo show titled ‘Rising’. “One thing my gurus drilled in me: ego goes in your pocket. Then take it out, screw it up and throw it in the bin.” During those two years, Davar taught Odedra contemporary dance while Kantaveh taught him Bharatnatyam. Their continuous and rigorous training offered him an escape away from everything and into himself.

‘Rising’ features four performances. Three choreographed by legends of contemporary dance: Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi and Russell Maliphant. “I came to contemporary dance as a classical dancer and when they auditioned me, they found something that works for them,” explains Odedra. “Each piece they made on me was an extraordinary experience because they chiselled and shaped it to fit me and the space I was in at the time. I didn’t come from a contemporary background, but they pushed me to the point of taking me to the edge.” In the dancer’s words, it was a confluence of contemporary dance and Kathak, a ground of unchartered territory. “They created three solos on me and I created the fourth one myself.”

Each of the four represents a different character; deliberately intended to be exclusive from each other. For instance, Khan’s piece represents man’s animal side: the primal instinct to break free when restrained, the “process of struggle and trying to break out of your body in one way”. On the other end of the spectrum, Larbi choreographs Odedra in poetic light, with 15 oscillating lamps. “I dance around them,” says Odedra. “It’s almost as if I start my own galaxy.”

Inspired by the dancer’s name, Aakash, they wanted to create this idea of the sky looking out at the constellation. Maliphant worked with Michael Hulls on the lighting that would transport the audience into another spectrum. “The entire dance is about the relationship between dance and light,” explains Odedra. “How the body reacts to light, and how light reflects off parts of the body. He creates this illusion.” For Odedra’s piece, he strips away everything: fanfare, frills and costume, and just gives his all to a bare Kathak performance. “I just wanted to take Kathak and dip it in acid and present it in its most raw form.”

‘Rising’, St Andrews auditorium at 8 pm today; email daniela.dias@britishcouncil.org for passes

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