Asian Music and Dance

Making the Heart Beat Faster – BBC Young Dancer 2015

“To understand why cultural diversity is a beautiful, positive thing just watch the final of #bbcyoungdancer 2015. Extraordinarily moving.”

“When my teenage daughter is crying because she’s never seen anything so beautiful before, something special is happening ‒ #bbcyoungdancer.” (Viewer tweets.)

In BBC Young Dancer 2015 audiences have witnessed energy and quality and found their dance horizons expanded. What of those involved in the competition? We talked to judge Kenneth Tharp, grand finalist Vidya Patel, her teacher, kathak dancer and choreographer Sujata Banerjee, and choreographer 34) Urja Desai Thakore who created a solo on Vidya for the final.

Kenneth Tharp (Chief Executive of The Place), who was a judge across all of the category finals, found “talent in equal measure in each style”. Many had wondered beforehand how the four styles (contemporary, hip-hop, ballet and South Asian) could be judged against one another, but as Tharp explained: 

“Having seen the rehearsals, it was very clear how closely matched the finalists were despite their genres… Although hip and ballet are stylistically very different, what they have in common are some of the ingredients – both can be incredibly virtuosic and the tightness of a hip-hop crew is every bit as tight as a corps de ballet in their absolute shared intent. Although the language is different there are elements that unite them… [It] was so incredible… to see these styles side by side. In fact there were moments in the Grand Final when you were watching something and you thought it could have belonged to another category – the modern dance piece in the ballet final could have belonged to the hip-hop category, or Vidya in her contemporary solo was doing a movement that could have come from another style. After all, you are dealing with movement and at some point the two are going to overlap – they are never going to be discrete.”

“…talent in equal measure in each style.”

Aside from the competition, the dancers themselves found they were enriched and excited by seeing the others: “It was interesting talking to dancers behind the scenes, they were relishing each other’s skill and discipline. Harry the popper said that he had done his first contemporary class, Vidya was fascinated by the hip-hop artist and they were equally fascinated by her.” Vidya was also drawn by contemporary: “The freedom of movement was something I’d like to try in my own style.” Sujata was so impressed by hip-hop that Sharifa Tonkmor (one of the category finalists) has invited her to join her at Charing Cross to improvise with her. “We do that a lot in kathak… you find the rhythm and do anything with it… There is an element of feeling fearless, allowing the body to respond.”

“…relishing each other’s skill and discipline.”

Is South Asian dance at a disadvantage, however, because it does not have the range of movement of, for example, contemporary dance? Kenneth Tharp: “What Vidya was doing was no less intense than any of the other styles… with the solo that was made on her, it had the possibility of kathak spreading its wings, and this may be something for the future… But what they all have in common is the human body and possibly, moving to music. Despite the differences… there were qualities that override individual aesthetic and style like clarity, performance quality, a sense of coordination and ability to communicate on all sorts of levels, to have a dialogue with the music, a dialogue with the audience, a sense of journey through space, all these things have to come together. You can give individual marks but at the end of the day it’s about the whole, the alchemy, what draws you in and makes the heart beat faster and takes you beyond words.”

“…makes the heart beat faster and takes you beyond words.”

In the South Asian category, one of the challenges in working to bring these elements together lay in preparing solo performances for a competition. Vidya is not yet at a stage where she gives many solo performances, nor is she used to competition. Sujata: “We give students an experience of depth of learning, technique and musical knowledge. The competition meant preparing only for the dance, physically and emotionally.” Urja Desai Thakore, who created Vidya’s solo on her for the Grand Final, gives us an insight into the ways in which Vidya has been challenged:

“Vidya is a very mild person… I wanted to make an expressive piece that would challenge her… [and] draw out another side of her. So I asked her to show me the feeling of being uncomfortable… Vidya told a story of a traumatic experience through her movement and as she was relating it her feelings kept flickering from anger to frustration. I wanted to capture some of that quality of moving in and out of different emotions.”

“…show me the feeling of being uncomfortable…”

Vidya is aware of how the intense learning experience has pushed her, mentally and physically, immersed for the first time in the creative process with different choreographers and with musicians (Shammi Pithia gave her continuing support), as well as preparing for the Sadler’s Wells stage. When she looked back at the videos with which she had applied to the competition, she could see the difference. Moreover, preparing to compete “against other dancers with brilliant technicality” brought a realisation that “this is what it’s going to be like in the profession”.

Although “the BBC were brilliant… [though] they didn’t know much about South Asian dance”, Vidya felt more recognition could have been given to the role of the teacher: “With hip-hop, dancers don’t just have one teacher through life. The guru-shishya relationship could be acknowledged a bit more… Especially in the 16 to 20 age group we need so much guidance and support that can only be given by a teacher.” Vidya describes her relationship with her teacher: “It’s a nice, light-hearted relationship. But I also respect Didi as my guru.” Sujata says the relationship goes beyond the studio, it’s “partly conditioning and partly a philosophical package… When the trust and confidence is there, you can jointly work for what you want to achieve.”

“…more recognition… to the role of the teacher.”

Also instrumental in Vidya’s development has been the training and support provided by the Centre for Advanced Training based in Birmingham’s DanceXchange. Indeed, the competition brought out clearly the value of institutional support – half the Grand Finalists had been students at Centres for Advanced Training in dance. Vidya joined CAT when she was 12 and trained there for six years, graduating last year. The generous open offer of free studio space whenever she needed it was invaluable, allowing her space in which to rehearse for a stage performance. Sujata pointed out that teachers also only have their own little studios and there are time constraints too. As the competition is not funded, this gave Vidya the space and the time without constraints to allow for creativity.

Serious concerns have been expressed about the gender imbalance at the Grand Final (one female finalist and one female judge), given that the great majority of dancers are female, but our interviewees did not feel this was an issue. Kenneth Tharp pointed out that there had been a balance of gender in each of the category finals [apart from the South Asian which was all-female]. Vidya said: “Whoever performed the best was chosen – it happened that the winners were males”, and Sujata commented: “It didn’t worry me. If it comes naturally, fine.”

BBC Young Dancer has helped educate audiences about dance and – encouragingly – it has also brought South Asian dance to a much wider public. Kenneth Tharp: “It helped send the message that what you are seeing on stage is the result of hours, weeks, months and years of dedication; sustained persistence; years of nurturing by teachers, mentors and parents. People understood that for Olympic competitors and now perhaps they will see dancers in the same light… You can take something quite niche, something people may feel removed from, and by giving audiences information and a positive experience leave them energised, excited and confident to at least open a conversation.”

Pulse is delighted that the BBC have announced their commitment to BBC Young Dancer 2017 – get your ghungroos on, young dancers!



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