Audiences will be indulged in a two-week extravaganza of Indian music, dance and theatre at Sadler’s Wells this November with the Svapnagata festival. Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director of London’s Dance House, explains some of the thinking behind the event.
Curated by Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney, Svapnagata, meaning ‘dreaming’ in Sanskrit, has lined up some of India’s finest musicians, dancers and choreographers to present several art forms on the same stage.
They include mandolin maestro, U Shrinvas; multi-percussionist, Trilok Gurtu premiering a collaboration with classical western musicians playing an eclectic mix of instruments ranging from French horn, violin and didgeridoo, and sitarist, Anoushka Shankar in a dance collaboration with Mythili Prakash. Also from the world of dance, kathak exponent Aditi Mangaldas combines her talents with Priyadashini Govind, the acclaimed bharatanatyam dancer. Theatre is featured with a play performed in Punjabi.
Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney present separate performances to launch Svapnagata but also come together to present a new production fusing Sawhney’s music with Khan’s blend of contemporary kathak.
Svapnagata has been two years in the making. “As we had conversations with Akram and Nitin,” says Alistair Spalding, “it became clear that all the artists that are being presented come from the classical traditions. But all have put their music or dance into a contemporary context, perhaps using western art forms, working in collaborations or doing something different.”
While the themes of many of the performances blend different art forms, Spalding says they have also produced a Svapnagata design for the festival giving the individual performances a context running throughout the two weeks.
Sadler’s Wells is no stranger to tackling Indian art. In April 2007, it had the world premiere of Indian epic Mahabharata. And back in 2002, it hosted the Sangeetham music and dance festival.
But it was the disappointing presentation of the latter that has partly led to development of Svapnagata. “I’ve always been slightly disappointed with the production values of the presentation. The lighting has not always been thought about clearly. It’s been slightly shambolic. We wanted to present the music and dance, which is excellent, to the same standard as our other events. Both Akram and Nitin are aware that when audiences come to events in the UK, they expect a certain level of production values.”
Spalding is unapologetic about bringing music into Sadler’s Wells. “Although our main work is dance, when we look at Indian classical culture, the dance and the music are so closely linked that it makes sense to present them together.”
Being curated by two well-known artists and presenting a high quality line-up will no doubt help bring in audiences. Says Spalding: “Akram tends to attract a very diverse audience while traditional dance forms like bharatanatyam bring in an Asian audience. We clearly want both. Sometimes neither will come. But I have a feeling the mix that we’re presenting will work.”