Nilima Devi, MBE is the Artistic Director of the centre of Indian Classical Dance (CICD), based in Leicester, and is known for her superior dance work throughout the West. She is also the Founder of her own now prestigious dance company: Nilima Devi Dance. An intertwining of the soft and powerful, her down-to-earth instruction has created great Contemporary performers such as Aakash Odedra, Subhash Viman, Kesha Raithatha and Meera Patel: all of whom are going on to leave their own distinct dynamic legacy.
“I make sure to teach traditional Kathak dance movements in a simple but structured way, – so that they can be easily learned. I’ll not make them overly intricate so as to accommodate for the time.” This is an excellent way to recruit youth from a diversity of cultures which Nilima stated is “pivotal in preserving a flagship of national culture.” Nilima’s students are further encouraged to “tell their own stories creatively, using the body to communicate the message to the audience.”
The alternatively strong leader has also created a popular modern dance herself to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 where Western music is combined with Indian Dance. She elaborated: “Kathak was originally a solo artform, but I have enjoyed adapting it to be more social. This allows a cultural relationship to form with the surrounding immediate community.”
However, Nilima also emphasised the timelessness inherent in this Dance form of North India: “Kathak performances normally consist of two parts, nritta and nritya. The first, the so-called technical part, is a pure dance form focusing on technique, a tremendous sense of rhythm and joy of movement. The beauty of this part of Kathak lies in the exact rendering of rhythmic patterns provided by musical instruments, through graceful body movements and the mystery of the artist's footwork.
Nritya, the second element of Kathak performances, emphasises abhinaya, which is the recounting of a story or song through mime, gestures of the hands and symbolic postures of the body. In the Kathak style, this is not rigid and allows the artist to use a variety of free movements, thus leaving interpretation of a story or poem and rhythmic improvisations greatly to the artist's power of imagination.”
As well as being an influential local figure in Leicester and throughout the Midlands, Nilima has worked with many internationally successful dancers and choreographers, some of whom have given Masterclasses and workshops at the Dance centre itself. This includes Pandit Sundarlal Gangani, Pandit Durgalal, Padma Shri Kumudini Lakhia, Pandita Guru Rohini Bhate, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Mallika Sarabhai, Birju Maharaj and many more. “I really see myself as an ambassador of Indian culture,” Nilima commented. “Classical Dance is more than physical art: it keeps alive an entire way of life, immersing others who are not from the country.”
Indeed, this Feb 29th, the CICD will be staging 'TATTVA' the Indian Classical and Creative Dance Show which will showcase a variety of new talent and dance styles, decked out in beautiful Indian costumes. “
Students and collaborators will perform Kathak, imaginative and Folk dance in stunning items, bringing everyone together too.” The costumes, which were carefully curated by Nilima Devi MBE who oversaw their grass-roots production will also be exhibited at the New Walk Museum in Leicester on the 22nd and 23rd of February for Free. Some of the garments for the 'Ugly Ducling' production were designed by gifted hands at the Loughborough Arts College. “There will be informative, historical descriptions beneath each costume. These will detail their making and individual inspirations,” Nilima added.
“Some are modern such as the Ugly Duckling costumes. As well as being available to the general public, these should help researchers when studying Indian heritage too.” This event will also include embroidery, Bollywood dance and Indian storytelling classes. “My role as Artistic Director has been multifarious,” Nilima concluded. “I choreograph, produce, create good partnerships, communicate and plan and network well! For example, we are already organising for our 40th anniversary next year which will take place at the Leicester Curve Theatre! My drive will always be teaching inspiring national ideas at a community level, while keeping the national focus.”
Indeed, an immediate commitment to cultivating identity paradoxically results in greater respect on the wider stage. as Nilima Devi and her lively troupe demonstrate, playfully interacting with tradition to create contemporary Kathak or Cathak or Bolly Kathak. This not only fosters a healthier connection within the self, but also builds a cultured and infinitely brighter world in which to really live. “Positive vibes have been key in moving cultural projects forwards.”
As well as boosting physical health, how else does Dance help people?
It boosts the brain: strengthening focus and discipline. It also unifies the mind and body which can make you feel more completer person. It is possible to feel entirely different!
Indian Classical Dance is often about a quiet power which is meditative and martial. Do you have comment?
Yes, it’s true. The teaching isn’t just about the dance, but also about the philosophy of connecting to other people through yourself. However, not everyone emerges a performer. I’ve had many students who’ve gone on to be doctors, lawyers and architects! It’s very much about an inner practice of calm that can emanate outwards. We’ve helped transform lives with dance.
We are looking to work more with mental health charities and organisations as a result. Similarly, I’ve found the dance to be helpful in exercise. We’ve helped women who might be otherwise housebound become more active and look after themselves more.
In my classes, for example, I’ll also really get the students' Heart rates going and their blood flowing faster. Especially to warm up.
What, for you, makes a good dancer?
Someone who can listen and learn to then inspire others as they take enjoyment. It’s a balance of creativity and hard work. Also, being able to culturally connect to other ideas in the world to perhaps even create dances that are entirely new.
“Classical Dance is more than physical art: it keeps alive an entire way of life, immersing others who are not from the country”