Feature: BBC Young Dancer Finalist Vidya Patel - on dancing for Richard Alston

Tuesday 15 March 2016 by Vidya Patel

Vidya Patel, with Richard Alston &  Nancy Nerantzi. Photo: Jane Hobson

Since taking part in BBC Young Dancer in 2015, I’ve changed my way of thinking a lot and have started reflecting more on how I spend my time. The one piece of advice I would give to anyone is: don’t let anything stop you from doing what you really want to do in life, especially not your gender.

The first time I ever presented a classical Kathak solo was for my graduation from the Centre of Advanced Training South Asian Strand at Dance Xchange, Birmingham in 2014. Little did I know that a year on from that I would be presenting the same solo for live television on the main stage of Sadler’s Wells in London.

This taught me that you never know when an opportunity may present itself, so always be prepared. Strive to be at your best so that when an opportunity becomes available you can make the most of it. During the competition I knew if I worked hard, regardless of the outcome, I’d have no regrets. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It was a positive challenge which pushed me mentally and physically. Through the process I met some amazing people, including all the other finalists. Meeting other dancers who are training in other styles doesn’t always happen easily but the competition made it possible.
The programme created more awareness about Kathak and gave the dance style an equivalent platform to other dance styles. And since then I’ve had many wonderful opportunities including presenting Khoj as part of Sadler’s Wells Sampled.

In March, I’ll be returning to the Sadler’s Wells stage with one of the leading contemporary dance companies in the UK, Richard Alston Dance Company, in Richard’s new work, An Italian in Madrid. Rehearsing with the company has been a totally new experience and has exposed me to how a professional dance company works. I’ve really enjoyed trying something new and have learnt that (as well as technique) mental state has a lot to do with how you pick up something. It’s been challenging to learn a different movement vocabulary but I’ve enjoyed being pushed mentally and physically.

Even though the movement language is different, the common ground between the way Richard choreographs and the Kathak style is that they both put great importance on musicality. Seeing the company dancers in the studio and watching them rehearse is a phenomenal experience. It’s been a real privilege to watch how Richard works with them.

I’m the first in my family to pursue dance as a career. We have a mixture of occupations including a doctor, make-up artist, physiotherapists and a teacher but no professional dancers or musicians. When my sisters and I were young, dance was something that interested my parents and especially Indian classical dance because it was a way of keeping us in touch with our roots and culture. My sisters were my first source of inspiration; I regularly watched them attend their dance classes and joined them as soon as I could. I fell in love with the art form through watching performances. I remember going to watch Bahok, a collaboration between Akram Khan, Nitin Sawhney and the National Ballet of China, aged ten. It is still one of the best dance shows I’ve ever seen! The dancers’ ability to make the audience feel something astounded me. I realised that I wanted to do be able to do that one day.

It takes several years to be recognised as an Indian Classical dancer. I auditioned in the pilot year for the Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) South Asian Strand at DanceXchange in 2008 and trained until my graduation in 2014. Being a part of a CAT was a big eye opener to me and one of the key reasons I’m trying to pursue dance now. The constant support from my subject tutors, Sujata Banerjee and Anusha Subramanya is hugely beneficial and having the chance to learn from different guest artists was something I really enjoyed. Following the programme, I continued learning with Sujata and she is a constant source of inspiration. I’m a strong believer in the importance of support and guidance; I appreciate that not everything can be done on your own.

There are similarities but also subtle differences in the way that the Kathak is taught in India compared with learning as a British Asian in the UK. Through CAT, I was lucky enough to go to learn dance in Kolkata for a few weeks. I found that the classical dance form was given a greater importance, treated more like a subject than a hobby. I witnessed an incredible performance by one of my teachers with his teacher, who was 94 years of age. It was a clear reflection that the form wasn’t bounded by age and if anything, age gave you greater experience and understanding of the form.

The experience of watching dance live is one of my key inspirations and keeps me striving towards excellence, I see as many performances as possible. Outside of the dance world I was encouraged by my parents who always taught me to go for what I wanted, that if there wasn’t an obvious pathway then I should make my own. My father is a human excellence consultant working with top-class athletes and I benefited from having first-hand experience of watching him improve the athletes’ performance through his work. One of those was the sprinter Jamie Baulch, whose determination and commitment, regardless of his world championship achievements, was impressive. His attitude inspired me greatly.

Currently I’m in the process of establishing myself as a professional dance artist. You never know who is watching, so performing at my best is what I always aim for. There is a lot of admin involved in being a freelancer. If I miss an email that’s a potential opportunity, so the challenge is balancing the different aspects of my life. I have to be as organised as possible, whilst keeping up my dance training and giving my creative all to whatever project I’m currently working on.

If I had to give advice to other young people I’d say; never limit yourself or hope for an easy shortcut. In my sixth form I found it very difficult to try to balance the different demands on me. Every week I would be driven by my Dad from Birmingham to London to pursue my dance lessons. We would arrive back late, sometimes at midnight, and then I’d have to be ready for school the next day. Making sure homework was done was a challenge. It was a juggling game but very fulfilling.

When people asked me which university I was planning to go to after sixth form, my response that I was going to become a freelance dancer provoked a variety of reactions. This made me realise that in life others will advise you from only what they know, which won’t necessarily coincide with your own passions and beliefs. However, it’s your own responsibility to follow through, to not be limited by other people’s perception, so go for it.

My hopes for the future are to inspire more young people to dance and to appreciate it from whatever background of life they come from. Also for there to be more awareness and acknowledgement of its importance in schools. After my Indian classical graduation at the end of 2016 I hope to continue to grow as a dancer and continue to collaborate with many other dancers and artists.

Richard Alston Dance Company
An Italian In Madrid
29 & 30 March

Find Vidya on Twitter @VidyaPatel96

Top photo, from left: Vidya Patel, with Richard Alston & Nancy Nerantzi by Jane Hobson

Your Comments

  1. Lucianne Lucie 18 March 2016


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