Interview: Gauri Sharma Tripathi Q&A

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Gauri Sharma TripathiPhoto: Ben Dowden Gauri Sharma Tripathi is one the UK’s leading Kathak artists. Her work is deeply grounded in the classical South Asian dance form, to which she brings a unique, contemporary relevance. Taking India and its culture to different parts of the world is a lifelong project for her. ***Gauri’s work is wide ranging. In 2003 she was Movement Director of Escapade, a large scale Indian extravaganza, with 120 dancers performing around the Southbank Centre; she was the first Indian classical dancer to perform in Westminster Abbey ( – as part of the celebrations of Commonwealth Observance Day in 1999). She works regularly with Akram Khan (on Sacred Monsters; a production of the Mahabarata and on his new work Gnosis, amongst others) and tours with her own company ANKH. *

She is an Artist in Residence at Southbank Centre and has been instrumental in producing Alchemy – a major new festival celebrating contemporary and traditional culture from India, running from Wednesday 7 April to Sunday 11 May 2010. As part of the festival, this Thursday (8 April) Gauri performs an extract of her new work – Kireet.

Tell us about Alchemy and your role in it..
Southbank Centre is a fertile ground in which the seeds of Alchemy are planted! Alchemy is the coming together of various aspects of Indian and UK cultures. It will truly be an amalgamation of different art forms. I am pleased that this has come about within my Artist in Residence period. I have worked very closely with Jude [Kelly] and the team right from the seed of the idea to its germination. It’s been a unique, democratic way of programming within the various departments of Southbank Centre, partner organisations – including Akademi, sampad and the British Council – and other artists in residence. The excitement of creating Alchemyhas got us moving with more ideas for the next one as well.

Gauri Sharma Tripathi'Kireet' You are presenting part of your latest work Kireet on 8 April in the Purcell Room. What is it about?
*Kireet* means crown; the representation of various symbols and elements adorned by the icons of Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna. The piece is still in development and I’m presenting an excerpt. The evening also showcases Bharatnatyam dancer Mavin Khoo’s new work in progress. Both pieces are working in the tradition of the styles of Kathak and Bharatnatyam, both looking at the iconic representations of the age old text and music. Kireet also brings out musical compositions of Dhrupad compositions, like the crown of music as well. These text based works comes down from the 16th century onwards. Some of the compositions are still sung today in the temples of North India in praise of the deities, using traditional formats within this era of modernity.

What will happen with Kireet after Alchemy?
It’s in it’s brewing stage! It will have time to develop and swell into a bigger piece. I have never worked with Dhrupad compositions before. It’s challenging and exciting. I’m going to move with it further.

You work as a dancer, choreographer and movement director. Which role are you most at home in? **I’m a person who in general gets excited by movements not necessary within the dance milieu. Our day to day habits, styles, sounds etc. all inspire me to create movements within the skeleton, or technique, of Kathak. Some get absorbed by the style, some standout and are used with other work I do. It’s fascinating what the instrument of the body can do and more importantly, how much can the soul fly with it.

As a Kathak dancer and choreographer do you ever work with other dance styles and genres?
I am a trained Kathak dancer and continue to learn, imbibe and evolve. For me the source and influences are from the Kathak vocabulary. I also work with the theme or the narrative as scaffold to the structures of movements that I create.

You are hosting ‘Location, Dislocation: Fusion, Confusion’ a debate about tradition and innovation (Sat 10 April, Weston Pavilion). How do you balance the two in your work?
As a trained Kathak practitioner, the way I was taught by my guru was that the tradition has been – and continues to be – handed down. My training also looked at imparting tools of the dance style in such a way that it gives scope for creativity. My work always looks at innovations within the tradition. I also strongly believe that the form has to be firmly rooted in. Imagination needs to fly, the body of dance needs to be chiseled and then the soul of the artist can speak with honesty.

You regularly collaborate with composer Niraj Chag. What are the challenges and advantages of working with a musician?
Working with Niraj goes back to our first journey with a musical called *Baiju Bawara*. Niraj is a good listener and is also sensitive to the needs of dance forms. He also brings a different perspective to the musicality and structure. I have always enjoyed building and designing the sound maps for my pieces. I’ve worked with artistes like Ashit Desai from India, to Jagdish Mistry, Nitin Sawhney and Niraj in the UK. As a dancer, the journey is of a fruitful courtship with my musical collaborators.

What first sparked your interest in dance/movement?
As a kid growing up in remote part of Rajasthan, my inspiration was from the folk music and crafts. The soil of the desert state bounced back inspiration to me. My guru, that is my teacher of dance, always inspired and pushed me, or delegated me, to start creating, assembling and performing as a soloist and getting a group to perform. I started putting together things for small family and school shows from the age of nine. What fun it was as we staged things out of sticks, fabrics, cooking pots etc. etc.!

What/who have been the greatest influences on your work?
Life around me; the moment of time, situations, emotions. My guru guides me and also gives me the freedom to fly. The zest to live and the energy and vigour of people around me is also inspiring.

If you weren’t working in dance, what might you have done instead?
I was determined from the very beginning that I will dance and dance and make others realise the importance of dance – and make Kathak a lifestyle. It is for me for sure and absorbs the lives of others as well. The joy and satisfaction of dancing is intoxicating.

What’s next for you?
A restless soul is in search. There are lots of things on the horizon. I will think, absorb and move on – and experience the world as a stage.

*Alchemy explores the culture of India, its diaspora and its relationship to the UK today in over 30 events spanning dance, music, literature, debates, fashion and food at Southbank Centre, from 7 April – 11 May 2010. *
Find out more: southbankcentre.co.uk

Gauri Sharma Tripathi performs Kireet on Thursday 8 April, in the Purcell Room. Tickets £13.
Find out more southbankcentre.co.uk

Location, Dislocation: Fusion, Confusion, Saturday 10 April, 4,30pm, Weston Pavilion. Tickets £7.50.
Find out more southbankcentre.co.uk

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