Bringing ancient dance form into the 21st century keeps Aakash on his toes
When Aakash Odedra was learning to walk as a baby, he instinctively stood up on his toes.
"My family used to say I was going to be a dancer," he says. And they were right.
Now 28, Aakash is, indeed, a rising star of contemporary British dance with a passion for the ancient Indian tradition of Kathak. And he is one of the must-see artists coming to the Tagore Festival at Dartington next weekend.
"I wanted to be a dancer from the age of four," he says. "My mother's sister used to dance with me in the front room at home all the time, and my mum encouraged me as well.
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"When I was eight I started learning classical dance with my gurus in England. They gave me a good grounding and then I lived in Mumbai for two years, training seven days a week for 15 or 16 hours a day," reveals the dancer and choreographer who was brought up between Leicester and Birmingham.
"I come from a Rajput family where everything is very masculine, but there were good dancers in our community because the men used to dance before they went to war," explains Aakash. "There were a few family members who thought it was funny that a boy wanted to dance; they thought it was a phase.
"My dad wanted me to be a boxer. But he is supportive; he comes to see my shows and is really interested, and it's really good to have him around."
Aakash's determination and dedication is certainly paying off. He is one of just five emerging artists to receive a £30,000 bursary from the Sky Arts Futures Fund this year, coupled with expert mentoring, to help take his work to the next level.
For Aakash that means creating a full-length live piece based on his own experience of dyslexia. Working with ARS Electronica Futurelab, his plan is to combine dance with cutting edge digital and mechanical technology.
Rising, the performance he is bringing to Devon, is a quartet of solos. Three are created specifically for him by world famous choreographers Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant, while the fourth is his own.
"Each one is absolutely different. In mine I do my best to show where Kathak came from. I explore the primitive state of being and the possibilities around that; it is pure, pure dance," says Aakash.
A sense of spirituality has always gone hand in hand with his dancing.
"I think I was very religious and spiritual when I was young, and I related Indian dance to Indian philosophy. I didn't look at gender, sexuality, caste or creed – I was reaching out to someone up there," he explains.
"That is why it was really important to be trained in something classical. You train in Kathak all your life and I want to bring this ancient art form into the 21st century.
Aakash's whole life revolves around his dancing and even when he's not performing or travelling to a performance – this week alone he was in London, Amsterdam and Switzerland – he is thinking about it.
"It is quite an obsessional way of life; dance is almost like breathing for me. I call it a relationship – I love it, I hate it, I fight with it, but I can't live without it," he says.
He is thrilled to also be exploring his dyslexia – something he avoided talking about when he was younger.
"I was really passionate about different subjects, but it's about not being able to express yourself through pen and paper. For me it was something to be ashamed of and I kept it to myself," says Aakash.
"What I know now is that it's OK to just be whoever you are. That's a very important thing."
Rising by Aakash Odedra will be performed at the Tagore Festival, Dartington at 6pm on Saturday, June 29.