‘Forbidden’ by Aditi Mangaldas beautifully portrays female sexual desires

 ‘Forbidden’ by Aditi Mangaldas beautifully portrays female sexual desires

Dancers are said to be ‘The window to the society’, it is their moral responsibility to show what is happening, what is not happening, what can be spoken or what cannot be spoken. Kathak exponent Aditi Mangaldas is one such artist who from the start of her illustrious dance career has been speaking of the unspoken and this time she has hit the nail on its head with her show Forbidden, which speaks of female sexual desires, a topic which is always supressed, hidden and often disgraced in the world at large. After her houseful show at National Centre of Performing Arts, Mumbai, I spoke to the overwhelmed Aditi Mangaldas. Excerpts from an interview:

How did the question of Forbidden come about?
The question about female sexuality has been haunting me for a long time. History confirms that there is a deep-seated fear of female sexual desire. I grew up with many mythological stories that keep reinforcing the notion of punishment being inflicted on women who have the courage to own their desire. Why are women the world over, from not just conservative, but also liberal societies; sanctioned, judged, controlled, hounded, shamed and eventually punished because they have the courage to own their desire? This question has intrigued me for the longest time. The final trigger was at a lunch, where an Italian lady guest recalled how every Sunday her parents would take her and her sisters to church. On their return, the mother would go into the kitchen to cook, while her father would visit the bordello! At this point, I expressed my horror and exclaimed “how awful”! Not referring to the man going to the bordello (that was another story) but the woman going to the kitchen! What about her sexual desire? What about her needs and wants? This was the trigger that started me on my exploration for my new work Forbidden.

Aditi Mangaldas

What all went into preparing for the show?
I generally take a very long time to develop and prepare any work. It starts off first as a small seed in my mind. The inspiration could be a story, a current event, a mythological story, a painting, a walk in nature, music, etc. Any of these could be the trigger that sets off the journey. The seed then germinates over a long period of time, being watered by the right sensibilities and intention. Forbidden took even longer because of the pandemic. This small seed started germinating and having a life of its own and getting transformed into movement. At which point I started conversations with my collaborators and a parallel journey of exploration began. So, it was not just one responding to the other, but an exploration of the subject that is simultaneously happening with music, with sets, with lights, costumes, text etc. Slowly the various layers fall into place. For me, it was very important to have a dramaturg, a mentor who view the work and constantly question your intention and give difficult but constructive feedback.

Aditi Mangaldas

You have an expert international team, why did you choose them and why not work with an Indian team?
It’s not about choosing an Indian or an International team. I have worked with many Indian collaborators. For every piece one choreographs – it was the work that demands a certain treatment and you look out for the best people who you feel would be ideal for that particular production, that is what really is the criteria. For Forbidden, I was interested in working with a non-Indian music composer, which I had never attempted before. The idea sounded exciting as well as challenging. I had heard a lot of Nicki Well work and was thrilled to have her on board. Also, it has been my dream to work with Michael Hulls, the brilliant award winning light designer. I have admired his amazing body of work for decades. So when he accepted, it was a dream come true for me.

The premier show rocked, what is the plan for Forbidden now?
Thank you so much. We have many plans for Forbidden. We have been invited by our co-commissioners Sadler Wells, London and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore to perform at their prestigious venues. We are in talks with presenters in US, France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. Let us see what future holds.

You have always been doing path-breaking and trendsetting choreographies and work, which has been your most favourite and why?
I usually say that I get pregnant with my work! Unlike the human gestation period, a creative pregnancy has no fixed gestation time! It could be a year or more. In the case of Forbidden, we started off in 2019 and eventually premiered in 2022. I can’t choose a favourite – each choreography hopefully has a different flavour and as time passes you realise which piece holds a sense of timelessness.
Currently, I am excited about the new duet Mehek that I am co-choreographing as well as dancing with the amazing British choreographer and dancer Aakash Odedra. It is a love story between a mature woman and a young man. We will premiere the duet in February 2024 in Abu Dhabi and hopefully soon after in India!

A lot of support is needed for a show, who all helped you to make Forbidden possible?
Forbidden is a one hour fifteen-minute Contemporary dance based on Kathak Solo which was commissioned by Aditi Mangaldas dance company – The Drishtrikon Dance Foundation, Co-commissioned by: National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. Sadler’s Wells, London, Supported by – Dance City, Newcastle, Rajika Puri, USA. Dramaturge: Farooq Chaudhry, Mentor: Morag Deyes, Light Design: Michael Hulls, Associate Lighting Designer: Ryan Joseph Stafford, Music Composer, Musical Arrangements, Production, Programming, Engineering & Mixing: Nicki Wells Indian Classical Renditions: Faraz Ahmed and Ashish Gangani, Musicians: Nicki Wells & Faraz Ahmed (Vocals), Ashish Gangani (Pakhawaj), Saskia Rao-de Hass (Indian Cello), Mohit Gangani (Tabla) Costume Design: Kimie Nakani Costume Realisation: Sandhya Raman, Technical Director: Christopher Flux, Rehearsal Director: Gaurav Bhatti, Technical Stage Manager: Nicholas Morris, Production Management: Sangeeta Rana and Kusum Arora.

Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacific University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder,
a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three
National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award
by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]


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