Why is the world scared of talking about female sexual desire? It has been a question that has consumed famous Kathak exponent Aditi Mangaldas for a very long time, and that is what she explores via her latest production. Titled Forbidden, it is a contemporary dance based on Kathak which will be performed solo by Mangaldas.
Mangaldas calls Forbidden contemporary dance based on Kathak. In her words, “she has sown the seeds of Kathak and watered it with contemporary thought and sensibilities.” The dancer, who has performed worldwide, started her training in Kathak at the age of five under Smt Kumudini Lakhia. She considers herself as a narrator of stories or a Kathakaar.
SheThePeople got to speak to the famous dancer and talked about her journey and the concept and thought behind Forbidden. She says, Why is it that the world over, in conservative and liberal societies, women have been sanctioned, judged, controlled, hounded and finally punished for owning their desire? What is it about sexual desire that is controlled the world over, and why? What is about sexuality that frightens society?
Forbidden By Aditi Mangaldas: Why Are We Frightened About Female Sexuality?
Owning female sexuality and accepting it is for pleasure will free women at multiple levels. Therefore, women who own their sexuality are viewed as loose. There are stories upon stories which reinforce that disaster happens when women own their sexuality. Managaldas points out, “it is about control, control in any form,” as she talks about contemporary examples of Women’s protests in Iran, American women’s fight for abortions rights or Shraddha Walker’s case where women are boxed and fighting for their bodily agency.
Change and Traditional Art Forms
As an artist, she feels the community has the responsibility to have the courage to put out burning issues. She adds, “even though it is not part of the classical, traditional Kathak repertoire. But even if one person in the audience sits back and thinks that is an achievement.”
She feels repertoire has to breathe the air of today. Even after growing up in a very liberal family, she has realised how taboos and judgments that people make creep into our daily lives, like an underground stream. It subconsciously decides our behaviour. During the making of Forbidden, she also went through the same doubts, but she chose to stand up for a topic often left untouched though central to every woman’s existence.
While working on Forbidden she had to train in locking and popping, contemporary dance, and Egyptian dance and then fed that into her repertoire of Kathak. She visualises it for us as not a Kathak tree, but the roots are Kathak.
How Kathak Has Kept Itself Relevant
She says what keeps Kathak relevant is its unique historical journey of travelling from the Gangetic valley temples to the grand courts and eventually to the kothas and the Proscenium stage. It is a democratic form and is a synthesis of both Hindu and Muslim cultures, and that inclusivity is what makes it relevant. The form allows it to breathe.
Artists Need to Walk The Talk
Talking about change, she says tradition is like a river constantly rejuvenating itself and imbibing new things from the atmosphere. She says, “Stories change, and it is the artist’s prerogative to breathe the air of today.” Elaborating on the need for transforming traditions, she talks about the repertoire “ched chad” which she explains means “no means yes”. She says, “for many years, great artists danced it in a very convincing way. So, you forgot and did not look at the message that it was constantly reinforcing. As artists, we must look at the message our traditional arts constantly reinforce. If that is not part of your core being and understanding, you have to say no. You have to walk the talk.”
The event, Forbidden, is commissioned by Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – The Drishtikon Dance Foundation & co-commissioned by National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai Sadler’s Wells, London.