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Aditi Mangaldas on 10 x 10
- Shveta Arora
Photos: Anoop Arora

June 11, 2018

Kathak exponent and guru Aditi Mangaldas recently had younger dancers of her Drishtikon Repertory Company, present short thematic pieces as part of a production called Ten By Ten. Aditi Mangaldas elaborates on how a theme becomes several different concepts and pieces and how it all goes from idea to staging.

Once you had the concept, how did you proceed to develop the production?
I had thought of this concept of Ten By Ten two years ago - from 1 to 10, what do the numbers say to you? For 1, you have one dancer, so what does one signifies to that dancer? We couldn't do it two years ago, it just didn't work out, but this year, we took a bold step. We just had to do it - and it worked. Individual concepts were then decided by the dancers themselves, sometimes singly in discussion with me, or as a group - we all sat down and discussed... what does 5 mean, what does 6 mean, etc. and took it from there. That was the basic concept - to take a number, to put that many number of dancers on stage, and to see what that number meant to the choreographer of that piece. Then we worked in terms of seniority and who I felt would be able to do better as choreographers. There were ten choreographers. We made a whole list of things about the meanings of 5 - senses, elements, etc. and then Manoj Sonagra decided that he would like to do five elements, and that's when he started developing the piece, for example.

What goes into building up the final presentation, including stage, costuming, lights etc?
I can only talk about this particular piece. This overall concept was in my head, and I put it to these dancers - there was discussion and more discussion. I told them to read about their subject and plan it. This actual reading, planning, the transformation of the number into movement, the deciding of the music, the deciding of whether it will be in Kathak or whether they want to use a different vocabulary - that was a churning process. Each one did their own work and came back - some I had more of an interaction with, some less. There was a lot of mentoring in terms of when you watch it, you ask a lot of questions - why are you doing this? If you're doing it, if that is your intention, it's not reaching me as the audience. The process went on till two weeks before the performance in various different stages. Some people had completed it; some people still had it happening. Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy helped in the mentoring for the contemporary pieces, I was mentoring all the pieces and basically it was a lot of discussion.

Then I sat down with each choreographer and said, let's sort out the costume. We didn't have any funding - Drishtikon as of now has funded this. Luckily, I think we have made up the charges for the theatre from the ticket sales. But there are a lot of other costs too. So we decided to source costumes from what we already have. The solos and duets - some of them were the choreographers' own costumes, but most of them were from Drishtikon's other productions. We tried to see how we could adapt the costumes we had from our older productions, whether the choreographer liked it; if not, what was their opinion, what would they like to do... The choreographers themselves worked with our three musicians on the music. Eventually, when they would show it to me, my input was to give small suggestions here and there - in a way, guide them, that's what a mentor is.

For two weeks, I was abroad, so they were on their own. It was like, we have put everything in the pot, and now it's boiling, so work on it, try and do the best you can. My rehearsal with them was on May 7th, 8th and 9th, that's it. On the 7th, we went through everything in Drishtikon, deciding on whatever costume we have, wear it and dance it, and whatever is not working is not working.

Now, Drishtikon is a small space. On the 8th, we hired the theatre space, and then we drew out the size on the stage so that they would have the placing correct. It's very important - after all, studio sizes are very different, and my studio is tiny - internal detailing, constant detailing. Again, they did one whole run, including the bow. The 8th was also when Govind (the lights designer) saw the piece. I had certain thoughts about the lights, Govind already had other thoughts in mind, so we put everything together and with very simple lights, using just the angle and intensity of the lights, we created different modes in the most simple fashion. We used no coloured lights, it was all white lights, incidentally, that day. Before I went away was the whole churning process; we made small pieces, not rehearsed properly, but you could see the muscular structure coming on to the skeleton. The three days after I returned was about editing - whatever was not working, edit, sharpen, polish. On the 9th were lights - we didn't have lights; it was all in our minds. And sound with the sound engineer Yogesh Dhawan. Again, a churning with the other teams - music, sound, lights - which is very important. We had only 10th for setup, the setup was by Govind in the morning. Sound was set up, we took 45 minutes in very quick placing, because eventually a theatre is a theatre, and then we did a full run with lights, sound, bow, announcement, everything, from 3 to 5.40pm. Everybody danced. I told them not to dance full out, just 25%, but positions have to be right and the mood has to be right so Govind gets the intensity. Then we had a small meeting. I marked out the stage so they would not be fumbling in the dark - sidelights, white-marked all the places they would hit against in the dark if they were coming out.

The sets were designed by me, but they were inspired by a set design that was made by my ex-husband Iqbal Kumar for a piece called Svogat. He had used these chains on the entire stage. But Svogat was not going to be performed now unless in a retrospective kind of way, you know. Then I thought, why not have 1-10, that number of chains hanging? Unfortunately, because the stage was small, we couldn't have that, but it looked infinite. Behind the rings there would be the number 10 and on one side number 2 and 1. That's why we spread it, and it looked beautiful, I thought, with the lights. My staff got some bamboo sticks, put some rings on it and hung it up in Drishtikon on the 9th, and then in the morning it was hung on the stage - it looked beautiful.

The meaning of this Ten x Ten was that it was all in-house. Everything happened within the Drishtikon format. Of course, we invited Govind Singh Yadav and Yogesh Dhawan, but they are part of Drishtikon in the sense that they have worked with me for many years now. But the input was from each one of us also. From me and Govind, me and Yogesh, and we also invited two outside musicians because we don't have a sarangi and a flute. Otherwise, everything was in-house - coordination, administration... The posters were made by Paushali Dutta, Drishtikon's administrator and media coordinator; social media advertising was done by Paushali, all the mailing was done by Kusum Arora, Drishtikon's administrator. On my Facebook page you can see me making centre lights, or focusing lights on different parts of the stage. I was pleasantly surprised and very, very proud that each artist came out with flying colours. It was a lot of hard work - and this was not my choreography. That's a hundred times multiplied, but the same process. We wanted to do Ten x Ten on the same level, that we would have the same production values...

Content is the most important. We first worked on the content unrelentingly before I went away. I said, "Internalize the content so deeply that in two weeks, it should be inside you. After that we will do the layering - light, sound, costume." We could have done it before, but unfortunately, everybody has constraints. However, we ticketed the show, and we were practically full that day. It's not about the money, it's about the fact that you have to have respect to make that effort - that I have gone online and bought it and it's my responsibility to go to watch that piece. Except for critics, all people who sat in front including gurus, VIPs, got their own ticket. I told everybody to come and encourage, but please buy your own ticket. What does outreach mean? When you want to reach out to different people and if the auditorium is full of your own family... So I said if they want to come, they have to buy.

Once you have a concept, do you take any literary inputs from anyone?
Gauri, Rachna, Rashmi and others already make big productions of their own, so they have some idea of how to go about research. I wanted all to experience the process and volunteered to help only if needed. Everything everybody did individually. Gauri spoke to so many people for her piece - each one of them did. Whether they have used a piece of text or written some on their own, they have consulted scholars who would suggest a particular piece... See, after all, the exploration was obviously limited to 7 minutes. But of course that is a must - I talk to so many people, I go and collect so much material, let's say for Within or Interrupted, out of which maybe 10% is used. Like with Immersed, there was a lot of material. Only four pieces of that were used. There is so much material for Within but only about 10 or 20% of that has actually gone into it. Whenever I'm making a new piece, I refer to all my older pieces, because I find some gems in them which were not used. Not only in terms of literature, but also poetry, stage, concept, music, dance ideas... I literally have packets. I have notes on bits of paper, on the backs of invitations... Anything to do with that particular production and it's a huge file. It's like a box. If I do Within over five years, all the five years go into it. Now when I want to do it in the sixth year, I go back and reacquaint myself with my own production. There are so many things I've not used and suddenly I'm like, this can be used in the future for another production. It is a beautiful, collective feeling.

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