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Aakash Odedra: Story of love and longing

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BRITISH dance maestro Aakash Odedra consistently leads boundary-breaking projects and Mehek adds to his impressive repertoire.

He has teamed up with Indian kathak legend Aditi Mangaldas in this magnificent dance drama that narrates the love story of an older woman and a younger man. The world-renowned performers will embark on a UK tour with the eyecatching show in April and cross new horizons of classical Indian dance.

Eastern Eye caught up with Odedra to discuss dance and his marvellous new show, Mehek.

What draws you to a dance production?

The possibility of imagination, the prospect of creatively bringing dreams to life. When I feel I can immerse myself in a world of fantasy, it means the production resonates with me.

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I also get excited about working with people I admire, who can challenge me both as a dancer and choreographer, helping me grow and discover new pathways of expression.

What did you like about Mehek?

I am a huge fan of Aditi Mangaldas. I love her dance and what she represents. I admire her defiance of the odds – dancing and daring to dream at the age of 64, when most would retire.

So, Mehek, for me, is about making the impossible possible. I appreciate that an older woman dared to pursue her desires and passions, loving openly and boldly. Mehek is about awakening the fragrance of love, not only within our duet but also in everyone, regardless of the form of that love.

Tell us about the show.

It revolves around an older high-society woman falling in love with a younger man of lower status. It’s a love story that sparkles in our imaginations, making us feel as though love persists even after the curtains have closed. Mehek feels like an eternal love story, inspired by the Heer Ranjha legend, but with our lived experiences and a contemporary sensibility. It’s a labour of love, laughter, and tears.

What has it been like collaborating with the dance legend, Aditi Mangaldas?

Collaborating with a legendary dancer like Aditi Mangaldas has been both challenging and inspiring. Initially, breaking the awe and formality to truly connect was tough, but retaining that respect was essential for my character.

Every second spent with her was a learning experience. She became my teacher, partner, friend, and challenger, both on stage and off. Aditi’s reputation of being a legend is well-deserved; each day for her is a battle and triumph. Working with her was a dream come true.

She touches a space within me that no one else can reach. Sometimes, when I’m dancing with her, I forget to dance myself.

What is your own favourite moment in the dance show?

The sequence I treasure occurs towards the end of the production. To truly understand it, you should come and experience it for yourself. I can guarantee you’ll feel emotional during the last section. Being moved is an experience, and moving someone else becomes a journey.

Aakash Odedra Aditi Mangaldas Mehek photo Angela Grabowska 7
Odedra dancing with Aditi Mangaldas in Mehek (Photo: Angela Grabowska)

You consistently do boundary-breaking work like this. Is that a conscious decision?

In most of my work, I don’t consciously aim to break boundaries. I strive to lose myself so that when I find myself again, I’ve discovered something new. As a result, many things are broken and reassembled in the process.

Do you think classical Indian dance needs to tackle subjects like Mehek to keep evolving?

Classical Indian dance predates me and will outlive me. It has reinvented itself numerous times. It will continue to evolve, with or without the specific subjects we choose. We are merely vessels for this time and place. Change is the fundamental fabric of kathak; it’s the only constant, whether we embrace it or not.

You have performed in many memorable shows, but what is your favourite show that you have enjoyed as an audience member?

I enjoyed Crystal Pite’s work and loved Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Babel, among many others.

What inspires you as a dancer and choreographer today?

They change every day. This changing energy is the driving force behind my dance and choreography. I also draw inspiration from life and all its experiences, which become the colours on my palette.

Do you ever feel nervous before going on stage?

Yes, absolutely. If I didn’t, something would be wrong. Your soul is laid bare on stage, exposing your most vulnerable self to people you’ve never met. It feels like I’m searching for parts of my soul in front of thousands of people.

What would you say is your greatest unfulfilled dance ambition?

I don’t have one.

Why should we all come and watch Mehek?

I don’t force anyone to watch my show. If it’s meant to be and the universe or god wants you to be part of the journey, you will be.

We all meet and interact on multiple levels for a reason. If the fragrance of our love in Mehek is meant to mix with yours, it will.

Watch Mehek at Peepul Centre in Leicester (April 4-7); Birmingham Hippodrome (April 9); Sadler’s Wells in London (April 12-13); The Lowry in Salford (April 16); and Northern Stage in Newcastle (April 19). www.aakashodedra.com and www. aditimangaldasdance.com

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