You often hear from contemporary British Asian dance companies that it is hard to find young, committed, well-trained dancers in the UK who want to make a career out of dance. And you often hear from South Asian dancers that there aren’t enough opportunities to dance professionally. I still haven’t figured out the solution to this riddle, but Hiten Mistry seems as close as possible to an answer that I’ve found.
Hiten is part of a new generation of South Asian dancers. Though he is studying Mass Communications and Sociology at London Metropolitan University, Hiten is passionate about dance, and dedicated to pursuing a career in the arts. He has trained in bharatanatyam for thirteen years, first with Smita Vadnerkar (Leicester) and more recently with Mavin Khoo (London) and Pushkala Gopal (London), under whose direction he performed his dance debut in February this year. Natya Arpanam, which draws on a broad range of mythological stories from the Hindu pantheon, is Hiten’s second solo performance.
The evening began with Gaye Ganapathi Jagavandanam, a composition on Lord Ganesha by the sixteenth-century poet Tulsidas. Hiten captured the rotundity and benevolence of the elephant-headed god with great aplomb. This was followed by a varnam on Lord Krishna in raga Attana in Aditalam. Cherubic and with a glint of mischief in his eyes, Hiten brought a playful innocence to the portrayal of a young Krishna. His depiction of Krishna saving Gajendra the elephant from the deathly grip of the crocodile was also executed with the right dose of physical drama and theatrical flair.
It was Hiten’s interpretation of an older, errant Krishna and an angry, forlorn Radha in Jayadeva’s ashtapadi, Priya Charusheela that gave away his youth as a performer. Krishna seemed more desperate than persuasive in trying to mollify a hardened Radha. The abhinaya of a padam should be less descriptive and more suggestive, less gestural and more emotive than that of a varnam. It is a subtle but important distinction. With greater maturity and stage time, I have no doubt Hiten will be able to tap into the emotional reserves of his audiences as much as he wowed us with his physical technique.
The evening culminated in a thillana composed by Dr. Balamuralikrishnan in raga Kuntavaraali in Aditalam. Hiten brought out the best in the Dhanajayan’s dynamic and energetic choreography. His footwork never faltered and he displayed a keen musicality and sense of rhythm. Hiten is a pleasure to watch. His nritta is clean and easeful, his movements economical without being mechanical. In an age when most dancers seem to be striving for the deepest aramandi or the most complex theermanam, it was refreshing to see a dancer who did not sacrifice grace and flow to the altar of technical precision and speed.
Hiten shows incredible promise as a performer. He, along with other young dancers of his generation, should be encouraged, supported and given opportunities to grow if South Asian dance in the UK is to continue to evolve. With dancers like Hiten at the helm, the future looks bright indeed.