Naytika Shah: A Tale of Two Dancers

Sunetra Senior Monday 31st August 2015 10:14 EDT

As if a powerful perfume, the essence of Prakruti Dance - a one of a kind Bharata Natyam academy based in suburban London- is reflected in the silvery yet sure voice of creator Naytika Shah: “I was looking to live by more than just big pay cheques,” she told us, “the big questions in life cannot be answered by those.  They lie in humanity, which is what the arts and dance especially as an instinctive form, allow us to access. ” In an age where technology and glamour are centralised, she re-routes the energy back to the soul. As we talked about her journey, including being invited to consult with the Indian High Commission, and her company ‘Prakruti’ being a joint venture with her sister Nilpa, there was a real poignancy to Naytika’s passion. Spirituality is not just a goal; it is a competing social landscape. Almost as martial as it is meditative, the sisters work to release the clean power of classical movement, and with it that of tradition itself:

Your dance academy came about in 2008. Tell me more. What is the story behind ‘Prakruti Dance’s’ Inception?

I studied Bharata Natyam, holding a Masters Degree in Dance. After that, it was a natural step to open up a dance school. The same goes for my partnership with sister Nilpa. We always do everything together! I started the school in Kenya, but because it was unsafe, my father pushed me to come here. Soon after, Nilpa and I participated in one of the first of many London projects together, ‘The Eternal Flow of Dance’ and the company took off from there.

How do you mix the Indian classical dance with a modern touch?

 Indian Classical Dance (ICD) is a means to reach the highest purushartha, which is the spirit. In this sense it can be seen as a form of meditation- I truly believe this sense of connection with a higher power is the aspiration man was born to achieve and is sometimes forgotten today. We use modern Bollywood music in classes to communicate the mood of the story, but it is always to connect to the esoteric nature of the soul. There is also an element of post-imperial classical revival in this too. During British rule, the temple’s Devi Desi dancers, the name meaning ‘servant of God’, were shed in a sexual light and stigmatised as prostitution. After the ban was lifted, the practice had died in the temple, but was gaining momentum in the theatre. This is part of the modernity we tap into too; the connection between past and present. ICD was an art for reaching God, and for today’s generation, it can align the mind, the body and the spirit.

Your Slogan is ‘Dance is a celebration of everything that happens in nature’. Tell us more?

Spirituality is the essence of being, and is that not nature itself? Our dances are to celebrate that life which connects us all.

How do you engage  youth in your classes?

The dance lessons are not just about the correct movement and form; we discuss the role of that dance, which expands out to wider life lessons. The Bharata Natyam is control over every part of the body. It is the means by which we can stay in the here and now. It is one of the highest forms of concentration and it teaches how to focus the mind. It creates spatial awareness as a performer while also instilling confidence.

Your great passion is ‘to bring about awareness of Bharata Natyam as a beautiful art form that is rich and majestic’. Does this include empowering women?

Definitely; it is a legitimate way through which she can express herself. It is the way she can experience herself as an individual, without any worries. In terms of strength, we were actually asked to show the importance of dance to a congregation of foreign diplomats through the Indian High Commission in Kenya.

What are some other highlights? 

We have been lucky enough to have many great opportunities; for example regular performances at the V&A and writing and directing a play for the Young Jains. But the most interesting story is when Nilpa and I were doing that incipient performance, ‘The Eternal Flow of Dance’, in London. It was very telling because when people hear about Bharata Natyam, they assume it is going to be idle and boring, but people who were prepared to walk out during the intermission, actually enjoying it so much that they stayed for the whole show! We did not need to alter BN for the audience to truly appreciate its beauty.

Finally,what is a motto keeping you going in this very unconventional and ethnic-specific career path?

I have a spiritual Guru and His teachings guide me everyday - everything happens for the best and you must pursue what you love without expectation of fruits. This is what will make it worthwhile.

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