Steps to excellence

Updated: Jun 26, 2020, 09:25 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

A new interview series featuring 11 maestros of Indian classical dance digs deep into what truly makes them great.

Mallika Sarabhai. Pics courtesy/Narendra Dangiya and Anoop Arora
Mallika Sarabhai. Pics courtesy/Narendra Dangiya and Anoop Arora

I never wanted to be a great copy. I'd rather be a bad original," Aditi Mangaldas asserts. Watching the Kathak exponent converse with Odissi dancer Madhur Gupta in a virtual interview is a deeply enriching experience not only because she makes sense of her life and art but also because she touches upon crucial definitions. For instance, what constitutes the "classical" and "contemporary"? Mangaldas beautifully explains the two terms with an analogy of an ever-flowing river.

The interview is part of a series called In Pursuit of Excellence, curated by Gupta's Sangeet Vidya Niketan and hosted by Sahapedia, the Delhi-based encyclopedia of arts and culture. The series features 11 classical dance maestros from India. The first video was released on June 18 with Mangaldas and the last of the series is an interview with acclaimed Bharatanatyam artiste Alarmel Valli. "When the pandemic struck, social media was flooded with webinars on COVID-19. It kept getting sadder. I thought about how people need inspiring stories and also, this is a time to excel at your art," Gupta says. That's why the series is centred on excellence, as, through people who have achieved it, it hopes to highlight how excellence isn't achieved overnight.

As a dancer interviewing dancers, Gupta, 26, says that his background helped him eliminate preliminary questions such as the historical context of the art form or a comment on the current scenario. "To talk of excellence is to probe how the brain works — where do artistes look for inspiration? Poetry, literature or nature? I didn't want to keep it too academic. It had to be inspiring for a lay person. So, even in 50 years, if people stumble upon this, it will still be something of great value."

Madhur Gupta
Madhur Gupta

It took Gupta three months to put the series together; he had to reach out to the artistes, make a list of topics to be discussed, and underwent tech runs. Since taking up an art form is a struggle irrespective of whether it's during a pandemic or not, Gupta hopes that people will lend an ear to the maestros to understand how they must still keep at their art because, "art has the power to push through anything."

Log on to Sahapedia on YouTube

Interviews to watch out for

Malavika Sarukkai Today, 2 pm
The expanding canvas – the need for inclusivity

Saswati Sen June 28, 2 pm
Dance as a profession

Mallika Sarabhai June 30, 2 pm
Addressing social issues with classical arts

Surupa Sen July 1, 2 pm
An insight into a choreographer's mind

Prathibha Prahlad July 3, 2 pm
Role of arts in current scenario

Shovana Narayan July 5, 2 pm
Kathak then and now

Alarmel Valli July 7, 2 pm
Exploring Sangam literature through Bharatanatyam

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