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ISTD profile: Aakash Odedra

ISTD profile: Aakash Odedra

29 June 2011

ISTD profile: Aakash Odedra
Vipul Bhatti reports

Aakash Odedra needs no introduction – certainly he does not have the time to make one. He is too busy doing what he has been doing for as long as he can remember: dancing. Every day is about creating, choreographing, rehearsing, practicing, teaching, learning and, through his dance, he becomes alive. 

Aakash began his formal dance training at the age of eight, before which he was begging his parents to allow him to dance. After much persistence his father agreed, and he has not stopped since. As he puts it: “As a child I was walking on my toes, I always moved… I was no different from a wind-up puppet.” 

“Aakash recalls that he was from one of the first batches of students who took the first ISTD South Asian Dance examinations”

His restlessness was the norm for him; there was no thought process or internal quest to which he aspired. However, a film about Indian dancer, Sudha Chandra, who lost a leg through an accident and continued to dance, inspired him. Her urge and will to dance through her difficulties reached out to him.

As he grew older, dance took over. Opening a door became a dance. His imagination was dancing. He remembers playing with pennies and in his mind they were bodies, with him crafting movement patterns, arranging spacing and direction. Aakash says he was choreographing without knowing it. 

In the coming months he will be collaborating with three of the world’s leading Contemporary Dance choreographers: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant, each of whom will create a solo with and for Aakash. To consecutively make work with these dance-makers is no mean task, but Odedra does not seem overwhelmed by the prospect; he feels nothing can prepare for choreography that cannot be learnt in class. 

Aakash recalls that he was from one of the first batches of students who took the first ISTD South Asian Dance examinations. At 14 he was assessed in Bharatanatyam and aged 16 for Kathak. He remembers the ISTD examinations, at the time being very new for the South Asian Dance community, causing excitement as the process was very experimental for both teacher and student, with the first examination feeling almost as though it was being improvised.

These beginnings of formal learning set a structure which he did not find before in his Kathak training. “I feel it helped me. It gave me an aim, gave my teacher an aim…. It certainly gave me a beginning in dance and an understanding of it. This structure gave focus and clarity, and also importantly, placed dance as an educational subject rather than just a personal passion,” he says. 

Before the ISTD examinations, dance allowed Odedra to express himself and serve as a personal release of his energy. By taking on formal training under the ISTD programme, the terminology that he had been taught before suddenly made more sense and “later, things became relevant,” he adds. 

Through this new training process, his curiosity helped him to dance, teach compositions differently and not to be a clone. Everything he learnt became a starting point. Odedra feels that the ISTD syllabus gave him an aim and that the structure of formal training steered him. It also prepared him for the real-life experience of learning through one’s mistakes. 

To this day, life itself continues to influence him. Even trivial matters can become a great source of creativity that can follow him into the studio, and without any intention, the subtle happenings take their place as movement ideas.

As a teacher Aakash learns every day from correcting his students. As he states, he gains another perspective of how another’s thought re-shapes his movement teachings and vision. “From understanding others we learn about ourselves,” he adds.

His advice to students thinking about pursuing dance as a profession is simple: “Follow your heart. I say don’t question. Things will be tough, and things will go wrong, but if you’re sincere in your intentions, and you’re open to the lessons taught along the way, just follow what you love,” he advises.

Vipul Bhatti

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