• Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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TOP 10 dance moments of Ashwini Kalsekar

Performing Mahadev: Story of Shiva.

By: Eastern Eye

ACCLAIMED Kathak exponent Ashwini Kalsekar is known for her expressive performances and ability to create magic on stage.

The London-based dancer, choreographer and teacher is one of three leading female artists headlining the Utsav 2024 show taking place at Harrow Arts Centre in London on July 21. She joins sarod virtuoso Debasmita Bhattacharya and leading classical singer Swati Natekar in the show paying tribute to singer, composer and academic Dr Sushila Pohankar.

Ahead of the show, Eastern Eye got the dynamic dancer to select 10 memorable moments from her artistic journey.

Inspiration: Performing at age six before Kathak maestros Natraj Gopikrishna and Sitara Devi in Mumbai was a pivotal moment that unveiled the transformative power of the stage. I experienced the profound impact of a live performance, the palpable connection with an audience and immediacy of their reactions. That immersion in the art form underscored the essence of live performance in my mind, fostering artistic growth and audience engagement.

Milestone: As a professional artist, performing my first solo in Nashik (India) for Kirti Kala Mandir’s 25th anniversary is a milestone I cherish. The intense rehearsals under the able guidance of my gurus and their blessings made my first performance truly exciting, despite the overwhelming nervousness and anxiety I faced then.

Masterstroke: Late Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj embodies divinity for me. His visionary contributions have shaped the essence of Kathak. I had the fortune of working closely with him, most notably, on the set of Hindi film Devdas. This experience proved foundational when I independently choreographed Indo-British film Ajintha for Nitin Chandrakant Desai. Later, Krishnapriya by Sara Creation offered me a unique opportunity to choreograph the grand musical for Indian audiences. These experiences enriched my understanding of cinematic choreography and musical theatre, elevating me as an artist and choreographer.

TOP 10 dance moments of Ashwini Kalsekar
With Madhuri Dixit and Pandit Birju Maharaj.
With Madhuri Dixit and Pandit Birju Maharaj.

 Guru: The biggest influence on me has been my mother and guru Rekha Nadgauda. Being her daughter and student, I conceptualised Kathak as the journey of my life at an early age. I have travelled with her extensively across the years and still get inspired by her sheer dedication of living the Kathak life. Her finesse in blending storytelling into her performance has had the biggest impact on me artistically. I strive to implement her techniques when I teach, choreograph, and perform. I am eternally grateful for her continuous inspiration as well as empowerment, in every step of my artistic journey.  

Shama Tai: She is the pillar of my Kathak existence. Shama Tai Bhate is a subject by herself that every Kathak artist must study. I have distinct memory of watching her performance after which my conscious, soul and the idea of dance was drawn into her charisma. I learned further from her in Pune to complete a masters degree in Kathak. Her fiery charisma, charm of ‘laya’, grace and elegance are not to be expressed but to be experienced. Shama Tai gave me ‘drushti’ to understand dance. She gave me ‘karna’ to listen to the ‘swara’. She gave me ‘shabda’ to express through Abhinaya.  

Production: Receiving my first grant from the UK Arts Council for my project on Mahadev: Story of Shiva was a profoundly blessed feeling. My dear friends Jaivant Patel and Anusha Subramaniam supported me through this journey, filled with challenges from the initial research to creating a pure, traditional Kathak production. The eventual satisfaction of captivating audiences in London, Birmingham, Leicester, and Croydon was unparalleled. This project was an endorsement of my artistic vision, which reinforced my commitment to presenting Kathak in its purist form. 

Pride: My students’ performance at the Purcell Room, Southbank in London is indeed a proud moment. We won the Navadal competition in the under 18 group, which was organised by Akademi and U Dance. That recognition of my student’s ability was a confidence boost. This recognition was an affirmation that I was on the right path as my students had performed traditional Kathak.

Daughter: My daughter Siya winning the ISTD bursary award for the South Asian category in 2022 was a divine source of strength. Her success was not only a recognition of my teaching and creative narrative, but also a proud validation of our dedication and commitment to the art form.

TOP 10 dance moments of Ashwini Kalsekar
Ashwini Kalsekar

Artistry: The richness of south Asian works in UK deeply inspires me. Akram Khan’s Desh transcends brilliance, weaving poignant connections between Britain and Bangladesh, evoking memories of his personal journey. Jaivant Patel’s Waltzing With Blue Gods offers profound insights into his perspective as a queer individual. Urja’s Anushthan presents Kathak in a novel light, igniting the artist within me with its innovative aapproach Sujata Banerjee’s Hemantika festival is eagerly awaited each year by Kathak artists, showcasing the beauty of Indian classical dance.

 Now: The year 2024 began with a significant achievement for me. It was an honour to receive the Young People’s Dance Championship Award from One Dance UK. The debut of my new choreographic piece Devi delved into the journey of women’s empowerment from the ancient scriptures to contemporary poetry. With the blessings and support of all the wonderful people around me, I eagerly look forward to creating more impactful work.

Utsav 2024 at Harrow Arts Centre in London on July 21. www.harrowarts.com and Instagram: @kathakashwini

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