Recently we sat down with contemporary dancer, choreographer and creator of TWO, Raghav Handa, ahead of the work’s premiere as part of FORM Dance Project’s Dance Bites at Riverside Theatres (18-20 February).
TWO is a show that utilises the principles of classical Indian Kathak. What is your relationship to the artform?
I actually started dancing through Kathak. My mum had bought my sister a ten class pass to dance at a local hall and after a couple of lessons my sister was having none of it. But my mum didn’t want to waste her money so she looked to me and said “okay, you dance instead.” And I loved it!
I remember there were a lot of girls (I was the only boy in the class), and they were all doing the Kathak spins and I had never seen anything more beautiful. I was just enamoured by the spins. I really wanted to dance so I went along for a little bit but my training was cut short because I was growing up and boys aren’t really allowed to dance, so I was taken out of the classes. So I did some years of training but never became a classical dancer, and would never claim to be a classical dancer. I came to my contemporary practice later in life.
How did you conceive of the idea for TWO?
There’s never been a start date for working on TWO necessarily. The piece mostly emerged out of me and my collaborator and virtuosic tabla player Maharshi Raval working together over a period of time. I never thought I would make this piece but over the last couple of years especially I’ve been thinking about the relationship I have with Maharshi and how we can work within the partnership we have in different ways.
So what role does Kathak play in TWO?
In the preparation for the work I’ve been looking at the rules and regulations that exist within the artforms of music, dance and theatricality, in the context of the classical Indian Kathak. When I think about that artform as a tradition, over the years it hasn’t changed dramatically in terms of how it’s conveyed and shared with audiences. There is a definite segregation of spaces as far as the musician and dancer are concerned in a way that is different to Western performance practices. The set-up for the musician is always done in advance and the musician just comes in to play. After the dancer enters and there are certain expectation from the audience about what the dancer will be. Typically they look beautiful and wear make up and a beautiful outfit. When the dancer enters they are warm and have a way of explaining what they are bout to do. From there on, in the traditional way, the performance starts and the dancer would then to-and-fro with the musician, upping the speed and challenging each other a little bit, going through quite complex passages.
There is a complexity in the physicality of Kathak and the virtuosity of the music, and I’ve thought a lot about those things and how they sit within myself and Maharshi’s relationship and our interactions every time we work together.
And as I am an artist in 2021 I’m always asking myself what is something new that I can create. I’m not necessarily looking to democratise or change the way Kathak is looked at through TWO but rather to reimagine or create a form inspired by it for me personally.