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'We don't need this minority mentality about our arts'


Odissi guru Sujata Mohapatra teaches at Milapfest.

Milapfest is a something of a giant agency for South Asian arts in the UK. It presents concerts, performances, workshops, summer schools and varied opportunities to lovers of classical Indian arts. Prashant Nayak, director of Milapfest, says Indian classical arts deserve a much bigger push in UK's cultural landscape.

Do you think that classical Indian dance is rediscovering the space it lost to contemporary dance in UK?

I disagree. There has always been a demand for good Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi and to some extent Kuchipudi in the UK. This need has been ignored or underestimated by those who believe that contemporary is the only way forward. If five dancers are doing contemporary work why tell funding authorities - and government funding is big here - that there is little demand for classical dancs or that it has no relevance in society today? As a father and an organizer I can't tell you the number of people in the UK who are desperate to learn from teachers with high creative standards.

Are you implying that teaching standards there are not high enough?

We need inspirational teachers who are in tune with how kids think these days. Not teachers who teach how they were once taught. I have 70 musicians and 110 dancers at Milapfest just now who will be teaching students for 10 days. Leela Samson or Priyadarshini Govind have fantastic teaching methods.

Isn't it hard to sell pure classical dance to youngsters this far from their roots?

It is the easiest thing to do if the teacher can give the dance an exciting edge. We had Bharatanatyam dancer Mythili Prakash doing a thillana to Damadam Mast Kalandar and the kids were amazed. There is a generation growing up that is dying to get a taste of its classical heritage and all we are giving them is Bollywood and Chikni Chameli. When I organise classical dance and music classes in the UK, 60 per cent of my uptake is from Europe, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. Only 30-40 per cent is from the UK. What are we afraid of? I don't know. Indian arts are a big thing everywhere. We don't have to have this minority mentality anymore about our arts, and we really don't need to defend our corner any more.

Why then does it then seem that contemporary dancers dominate the UK scene?

I will blame the English media for it. And all of us who let this happen without correcting the situation. A lot of what passes for contemporary is neither classical nor modern. We celebrate contemporary so much today but I say Bharatnatyam and Kathak are contemporary enough. We don't have to invent and innovate all the time just to find funding. Gurus like Leela Samson and Kumudini Lakhia are as contemporary as any dancer you can find.

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