Interview: Seeta Patel On The Rite of Spring
Are you ready to discover the stunning fusion of Indian classical dance and Western classical music? Look no further than Seeta Patel’s latest creation, The Rite of Spring, at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on 14th March. In an exclusive interview with KOL Social, Seeta discusses her intricate interpretation of the iconic work using the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam.
KOL Social: Can you tell us about how you became a choreographer, Seeta?
Seeta: : Yeah, so I started off as a dancer, fairly late at the age of 23 as a professional dancer. After a couple of years dancing in a company, I started making small works with a colleague and friend of mine. It wasn’t a lifelong desire, but I did it to try it out. I started with smaller works and then moved to slightly bigger things. Last year, I got some commissions with dance schools, which was a chance to work with groups of 14 and 15 people. This is the first time I’m working with this many dancers in my own company with my own dance form.
Q: What inspired you to create a contemporary interpretation of The Rite of Spring?
A: I wouldn’t call it a contemporary interpretation in the sense that it’s of this time. I am using the dance form that I’m trained in and trying to stay true to that movement language. It’s a contemporary expression of that dance form, but it’s still using a very specific movement language from my training. I thought it would be interesting to take works that are inherently ensemble works from the Western contemporary ballet repertoire canon and then see how I could interpret those works with the team dance form. It was an experiment, and then The Rite of Spring just made sense to make. We went through a six-month version with recorded music, and now we’re upscaling to 12 dancers in a boat and the symphony orchestra.
Q: Congratulations on your work on The Rite of Spring. Can you describe your creative process for this piece and how you approached the challenge of adapting this classic work?
A: Thank you. It’s been a long process. I started with a small excerpt with five dancers in 2017, and then in 2018 and 2019, there was more development with six dancers. Initially, I tried to make the piece by looking at the form and working in a more devised way, giving the dancers some tasks. But then I realised that wasn’t working well for me. So I deciphered the music and translated some of the counts into Indian rhythms to teach it to the dancers in our musical language. Once the music was deciphered, it was easy for me to see how the narrative flows and how to create the various sections to build a journey for the piece. It’s been a long process with changes to adapt to different iterations, like a version for indoors, outdoors, and a filmed version. The core of the work is the same, but each iteration gives more depth and life to it. We have the opportunity now to expand the visuals with many more bodies moving in space.
Q: So, where is your family from?
A: I’m North Indian, from Gujarat, but my parents were both born in Africa, and then they moved when Idi Amin expelled South Asians from Africa in the seventies. So I’m North Indian, born in the UK with parents born in Africa and grandparents born in India.
Q: It’s interesting to hear about your cultural background and how it influences your dance style. How do you collaborate with the dancers and other artists involved in the production of The Rite of Spring?
A: Working with the various creative collaborators and dancers was a really fulfilling experience. In terms of the choreography, I created material on a couple of the dancers in advance of the full company coming together, and then adapted it to fit the ensemble, adjusting and tweaking to be more cohesive as needed. It was a joy to work with the costume designers and the lighting team. The costume were designed by two brilliant fashion designers based in Bangalore, India (Jason and Anshu – smallshop). They use very interesting printing techniques and drape fabrics in such a brilliant way. They worked closely with me to meet the needs of the dance form and aesthetics I wanted for the piece.
The lighting designer Warren Letton was also involved from the very beginning, and understood my vision so deeply. He worked with colour to create a parallel journey to the dance and narrative, highlighting and creating the perfect ambience and mood for the work.
The chief conductor for the BSO, Kirill Karabits, spent time with us and came to the studio to watch the dancers. We had a conversation about tempo and the drama of the music, and it was wonderful to watch him watch the dancers. This is a dance form he wasn’t familiar with at all, and it was great to see him so excited and bowled over by the dancers.
Q: Can you discuss your traditional Indian classical dance techniques in The Rite of Spring? Also, can you tell us about any challenges that you had while doing the production?
A: The dance form used in The Rite of Spring is called Bharatanatyam, which is from the south of India. It has gone through a tumultuous socio-political history. The dance form has evolved over the years some sub-styles are a lot more athletic and physical than past iterations.
There are of course popular traditional repertoire pieces that are practised and enjoyed by dancers across the world, alongside more contemporary explorations like my work.
One of the challenges we faced was finding professional dancers because there aren’t major schools of Bharatanatyam where people come into the professional sector in the UK. We had to look all around the world and deal with visas etc to bring together the cast of dancers. We have a range of diversity even within our own dance form, and trying to get everyone together into a cohesive group for such a complicated piece of music was certainly a challenge.
Catch the mesmerising play The Rite Of Spring at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from 13th – 14th, March 2023. The show’s running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes, including a 20-minute interval, with ticket prices starting from £15.00
Images: Foteini Christofilopoulou