Wild Card, a Sadler’s Wells initiative which opens up the theatre’s Lilian Baylis Studio to the next generation of choreographers and dance makers, returns for its fourth season this autumn, presenting UK born and raised dance artist Seeta Patel.
Patel has been championing the Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam for many years, at the same time as forging a distinctive career in contemporary dance under the guidance of Mavin Khoo. She has performed with companies such as DV8 Physical Theatre and presented work at Southbank Centre.
How did you take up dancing?
I started dance at the age of 10 in Bristol at a local Saturday school. It started as a hobby, then I got a lot more serious after a couple of years and started doing private classes.
What is ‘Something then Something now’, about?
Something Then, Something Now is an evening of classical Bharatanatyam with Carnatic music that I have curated as part of the Wild Card platform at Sadler’s Wells. I chose to present a new solo work which I hope to tour as part of a larger evening next year, followed by a rare chance to see the seasoned artist, Pushkala Gopal, perform the expressional aspect of Bharatanaytam (abhinaya). Live music by a very talented orchestra will underpin the evening and it will be concluded by a post show talk with my teacher and mentor, Mavin Khoo. Mavin is one of the most accomplished artists in the field of Bharatanatyam with a deep understanding of its roots, and the context in which the art form functions in modern times. I have called it Something Then, Something Now because I would like to highlight both the deep rooted legacy from which the art form began, to its ever evolving presentation and relevance in current times. The evening is focused on the beauty of classical dance and music.
As a practitioner of Bharatnatyam- the oldest classical Indian dance form, how do you relate to contemporary dance forms?
Whether classical or contemporary, I value and appreciate good quality work, both in thought and execution. I value the rigour of classical training and appreciate a similar rigour and attention to detail in contemporary dance, and all other art forms. For me Bharatanaytam is an incredibly moving experience that makes time stand still for a brief moment. Any other very good art-work regardless of genre or form, is a similar experience. I don’t like to be limited to the dance form I have trained in, but very much enjoy being inspired by quality in whatever form that takes, including contemporary dance. I have been a part of the world of contemporary dance for some time and have worked with some brilliant choreographers. Each process has been different and I have learnt a lot. All aspects of my learning in some way compliment and enhance my classical work in deep ways (even if that is not always an aesthetic outcome). Bharatanatyam as we see today has also undergone a great renaissance and it is very different to early versions. I find it a bit misleading to define it as the oldest Indian dance form. I think it is better defined as a classical dance form and relate to it through a less exotic idea.
Your film ‘The Art Of Defining me’ has been screened at the BFI, Southbank last year as part of the 16th London Asian Film Festival. What drove you to make the film?
After my time working with DV8 physical theatre I wanted to explore my newly learnt skills in a new project of my own making. I also wanted to try a new medium and experiment with the impact of film on the choreographic process. Film is an interesting medium and creating within it was a real eye opener in terms of process. The idea came about from several experiences about how identity has become a commodity in our field, and I was interested in working with this subject in a humourous way. Film being a transportable medium, it has allowed me to reach out to a wider audience.
You were rewarded with the Lisa Ullman Scholarship to study in India in 2005 and again in 2013 at the Film Academy in New York. How did you change and grow as an artist between these two milestones?
I have grown in so many ways. But fundamentally I think I have become a much more thoughtful artist and much more interested in quality and integrity than pandering to the ever-changing trends in the field. The first time I went to India I had not been a professional dancer for very long. I was nervous and excited and open to whatever was there for me. It was a very grounding time. Since then I worked with a lot more people and created several of my own projects. By 2013, I was a much more experienced artist but also hungry to be able to train again. My approach to New York was a lot different to India even though I was still very open to learning whatever I could. I went into the film training with much more of an understanding of who I was as an artist, my interests, my strengths and weaknesses. Both experiences lead to renewed and fresh energy in my work on my return to the UK.
You have been selected as one of the very talented 20 dance artistes for the Dane UK mentoring scheme 2014-2015. Congratulations Seeta! How would you like to see your career develop at the end of the term?
Thank you! I think the development will be much more on a personal level in terms of my confidence to be able to communicate the things I feel strongly and passionately about within my field.
Career developments tend to happen very organically for me when the time is right and I like to have faith that there will be a forward motion on that front. I have no specific agenda about where I hope to reach after the mentoring, but more of a hope that I can become clearer and more understood in my vision.
Apart from dance and film making, you are attracted to what other art forms?
I very much enjoy theatre and reading.
Which is your next favourite dance form after Bharatnatyam?
Argentine tango (which I have been doing for over 7 years now as a hobby). It feels like the most natural of dance forms to me. Like breathing.
Who has been your greatest inspiration as a dancer and as a film maker?
My greatest inspiration as a dancer has definitely been my teacher Mavin Khoo, and I feel very grateful that our paths crossed and that I have been able to learn from him for so many years. I continue to be thrilled by his artistry. In terms of film I think I need to see much more but I enjoy the work of many people and love seeing unknown talent flourish.
Whats your next big aspiration?
I’m not sure yet but watch this space…things just seem to come about when I least expect them.