Indian dances open doors to life, says Belgium’s Maya Sapera

 Indian dances open doors to life, says Belgium’s Maya Sapera

Undoubtedly Indian dances have mesmerised the world, our culture of Indian classical and folk art is so captivating that people from all countries, ethnicities and religion get drawn towards it. Maya Sapera Dance Company headed by the supremely talented Maya Sapera is a production company with different dance and music groups, they offer a high-quality programs and have brought Indian and oriental arts to the Belgian. Their productions combine different cultures in a creative and authentic way, led by their artistic director Maya Sapera, Maya Sapera Company extensively tours Belgium and other parts of Europe and Asia. On their recently trip to Mumbai to perform their show Women Speak at NCPA, I caught up with Maya Sapera and she poured her love for India to me, excerpts from the interview:

How and why the name Maya Sapera?
My birth name is Eva Baillieul. In my twenties I started to dance for the Khan Brothers, a Rajasthani music group I am part even today. Promoting their group, they encountered the problem that people would want to book them without me, because I was not Indian. So, one day Mahabub Khan told me: “From today you are Maya Sapera, you will not speak Dutch, will only speak Hindi or English, like a true Indian.” People who believe that you have to be an Indian to do Indian dance see an Indian in me. People who don’t have this conviction see me for who I am. I am half Belgian, half Spanish. But, I grew up with Indian dance. India is inside me; I think I am more Indian than most Indians.

What attracts you to Indian dances and why?
Wow! That’s a big question. As a child Indian dance just crossed my path and it stayed, especially Bharatnatyam, Kalbeliya and Kathak. I believe Indian dances are humanly form, they are emotional, intellectual and extremely spiritual too. I have made a conscious choice to make it as my profession, to me Indian dance is a door to life. It’s a way of living, a way of growing as a human being. I believe in the holistic approach. First you learn to dance, then through dance you touch music, then lyrics and philosophy. Through the stage you are confronted with the nakedness of your image. through the eyes of dance one has endless conversations with one’s guru about everything in your life. Dance is the starting point of it all, but actually it’s about life. I believe also in the endless learning process. You never stop learning, because you never stop growing as a human being. I love also the fact that the movements are quite natural in the sense that you don’t destroy your body. You learn to respect your body and listen to your body. You go in dialogue with your body. That is why you see artists from all ages performing and mesmerising their audience.

Tell me about your dance journey, how did it all start and progress?
My mother is specialised in traditional dance of Northern Africa and the Middle East. When I was a small girl, she was following classes and I was accompanying her to the dance class, where I was copying at the side. The director of the dance school was a teacher of Bharatanatyam and she needed a small girl for a performance. She asked me and I said “yes”. It was an invitation of life. So, I grew up with Oriental dance and Bharatanatyam. At the age of 16 I was introduced to Kalbeliya and the folk world of Rajasthan. In the same year I did my Arangetram and I was laureate in an important dance competition “Best Belgian Dance Solo”. I also started teaching for my guru and my mother. Of course I didn’t escape the Bollywood wave in Belgium and I can say I am the dance mother of quite some dancers in Belgium.
In my twenties I switched to Kathak. I am blessed with a beautiful guru shishya relationship with Shila Mehta. I collaborate with her as well for the Kathak education that we established in Belgium as for the Kathak dance productions. Thanks to this collaboration I am now attached to the embassy of India as a Kathak teacher.

Is promoting culture is your mission now?
Apart from performances, we offer qualitative dance classes, music classes, and workshops. With our strong educational platform, we want to upgrade the Indian and oriental art forms in Belgium at both the technical level and reputation. Our Kathak dance education (Nupur Zankar Belgium) gives dancers the opportunity to obtain a degree certified in India. This way, we want to motivate dancers and musicians to practice ‘non-Western’ styles at a high level. Since I am living in Belgium, to me it is important to pass on the core values that I inherited through the classical Indian dance. It is my mission to enrich the community where I live with the same. Spreading culture is a continuous artistic and human search: building bridges, marrying and eventually melting both cultures. It’s also about finding my personal dance language too.

We believe in the power of collaboration. We hold our Kathak dance education and Kathak projects under the name Nupur Zankar Belgium. For these projects, we collaborate with Shila Mehta’s Nupur Zankar in India and the USA. We have Alain Platel, a world famous contemporary choreographer of Les Ballets C de la B and Michael De Schrijver (Zephyrus Records). They have supported us by completing our organisation’s committee. We have a residency at Danshuis De Ingang too. Maya Sapera Company is supported by the Federation of self-organisations in Flanders and also by Danspunt and the Flemish Government for several productions. All this helps us spread the culture all over the world.

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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