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Flamenco Kathaa: A Brand New Exciting Dance and Music Form Has Emerged in Our Midst

Kathak dancer Aditi Bhagwat and Flamenco performer Kunal Om have merged the two dance styles to create Flamenco Kathaa

Sunil Sampat Mar 06, 2019

Flamenco Kathaa dancers Aditi Bhagwat and Kunal Om. Photo: Courtesy of the NCPA

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There seems to be an exciting new art form in the making ”“ and it is happening right in our midst in Mumbai. It is called Flamenco Kathaa but it is definitely not any sort of fusion, which at best is superficial. The story of its development is quite fascinating. Two seemingly diverse dance artists have come together and forged this new article.

In a way it is a case of an art form returning to its origins. The dynamic dance from Spain, the Flamenco has its roots in the influence of the music from gypsies who were in Andalusia, in Spain. These nomads were supposed to have travelled from Rajasthan through Romania, Hungary and central Europe and finally landed in southern Spain. Take the romance of this concept out of the equation and listen to the rhythms and tempo of the Flamenco. There is something familiar to our ears in these rhythms, especially for those exposed to Rajasthani Kalbelia music and dance.

Two dancers from Mumbai have discovered deeper connections and, with artistic imagination and their creative skills have forged together a new dance form they call Flamenco Kathaa. The duo involved in this exciting development are Aditi Bhagwat, a noted Kathak dancer and Kunal Om, a versatile freestyle dance artist who is now an accomplished Flamenco dancer, having spent several years in Spain to learn his craft.

It is important to note that Flamenco Kathaa is not a ’fusion’ of two dance forms; far from it. What this new art form represents is the synthesis of the Flamenco, which is a classical dance form, with various beats and counts to express different moods, and the Kathak, which is a dance form telling stories (Katha). It is the recognition of the common factors between these two dance and music forms that has helped in forging a new art form. Both Bhagwat and Om have worked hard to create Flamenco Kathaa. One has to see them perform this dance to realize the seamless blend these two dancers have created; Bhagwat dancing to the Flamenco or Om responding to her “Bols” seems totally natural. It is almost as if they have created a new ‘tradition.’

In an interview with Rolling Stone India both dancers help us to understand their backgrounds and get inside their heads to get a close look at Flamenco Kathaa. Excerpts:

“The collaboration took a lot of intellectual work but in the end it is more fun and play than work,” says Bhagwat.

From the classical background of Kathak, how were you (Bhagwat) persuaded to expand your horizon towards Flamenco?

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Bhagwat:  The collaboration took a lot of intellectual work but in the end it is more fun and play than work. We are doing what we love to do most using the mediums we love the most. The process has evolved, with us constantly staying in the mental space where we have to be innovative, striking a balance between creating what is entertaining and experimental and yet true to our art forms.

Music is an important, integral ingredient in both Kathak and Flamenco. In creating Flamenco Kathaa, how have you designed the music and what instruments have you used for this collaboration?

Bhagwat: The accompanying musicians have brought a lot to the collaboration. They are as committed and are evolving with the project. The music forms are a crucial part of the project. The musicians involved are Deepak Verma on Spanish guitar and Aditya Kudtarkar on cajon and representing the Flamenco sounds Shruti Bhave [violin and vocals[ as well as Vinayak Gawas on tabla. These musicians also blend their sounds as we do with dance.

Tell us briefly about your (Om) journey as a dancer.

Om: I always loved dancing. I trained under Darren Das in my early years. Later, I was fortunate to be picked by international artists  like Boney M, Shaggy, Diana King and Ricky Martin  as a support dancer on their India tours. This exposure gave me a big boost; these are memories I still cherish.

How did you develop this fascination for Flamenco while living in Mumbai?

Om:  After performing with Ricky Martin, I got hooked on to Latin and Spanish music and dance styles. The language and sounds of that music sounded intriguing and passionate. I used to be fascinated by the dance forms of Tap and Flamenco but veered towards the latter when I saw a performance of Flamenco in Mumbai by a Spanish group.

How did this translate to going to Spain and learning the Flamenco?

Om: I was in Jodhpur for a dance event and ended up holding an umbrella for four hours to shade a legendary Flamenco guitarist, Pepe Habichuela, from the harsh Rajasthan sun, during a technical rehearsal. Also present for the occasion were a number of other Spanish Flamenco artists. This contact turned out to be my introduction to the world of Flamenco and led to my going to Spain. My Flamenco journey began in the caves of Granada in 2014. The Habichuelas hailed from Granada and I was overwhelmed by their acceptance of me into the world of Flamenco. I believe that being Indian must have helped, as the roots of Flamenco are identified as being from Rajasthan.  I committed myself to studying the Spanish language and dance and soaking in the culture by mingling with the purists, the gypsies in their caves. Their stories, history, tales of pain and suffering which led to the evolution of the Flamenco were my foundations for this dance form. I have followed about 150 maestros and maestras and studied their styles from 2014 to now. I have been totally immersed in the world of Flamenco in its various styles.

Says Om, “I have been totally immersed in the world of Flamenco in its various styles.”

How did your dancing get integrated with Aditi’s Kathak?

Om: I had met and had known Aditi in Mumbai, and while in Spain would chat with her about dance and the process I was going through. We connected artistically because I had studied playing the tabla in India for a decade which made it easy to understand her dance form and its rhythm patterns. The collaboration then became a consequence of our discussions. The integration was a pure and natural connect with us getting on the studio floor and exchanging the two forms extensively, brainstorming for hours and understanding each others’ craft. This has resulted in our dance forms melting into each other without compromising on the purity of either.

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How important is the musical accompaniment and how do you design it?

Om: Flamenco Kathaa started off as a very rhythm and percussion based project. In the absence of Flamenco singers and musicians in India, we sought and found a team of exceptionally talented musicians. They have selflessly given us their time and effort in understanding and learning the music and rhythms of the Flamenco. As a result, their music is now an integral part of Flamenco Kathaa. We keep the Flamenco music alive in its pure form with the Spanish guitar. The classical Indian violin brings out the beauty of Kathak music and the musical ensemble blends effortlessly with our dance concepts. It has taken years of meticulous hard work and synchronization to bring this end product.

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