Dis­tinc­tion with fly­ing col­ors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE - By MAG­GIE BEALE

Hong Kong res­i­dents seem to love things In­dian — be it cui­sine or cou­ture. Take In­dian dance, for ex­am­ple. Its dif­fer­ent clas­si­cal forms and par­tic­u­larly Bol­ly­wood danc­ing en­joy a fol­low­ing that ex­tends far be­yond the city’s In­dian com­mu­nity, com­pris­ing only about 0.4 per­cent of Hong Kong’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion. Fans in­clude mem­bers of both lo­cal Chi­nese and ex­pa­tri­ates some of whom won’t mind pick­ing up a move or two them­selves.

Over the past few years, dance stu­dios have popped up around the city, giv­ing lessons to both hob­by­ists and se­ri­ous en­thu­si­asts of clas­si­cal In­dian dance forms as well as Bol­ly­wood-style danc­ing, in­spired by main­stream In­dian movies.

“The in­ter­est has grown a lot over the past nine years that I have taught here,” says Uday Ku­mar Sathala, a Bol­ly­wood and In­dian dance in­struc­tor and chore­og­ra­pher who is also the founder of Feel the Beat Dance Stu­dio in Mong Kok. “In­dian dance is a very dif­fer­ent style of dance com­pared to Western dance, and peo­ple al­ways want a dif­fer­ent style.”

Sathala says that his most pop­u­lar class right now is a mix of semi-clas­si­cal and tra­di­tional In­dian dance forms. It may look clas­si­cal but isn’t re­ally.

“In­dian dance is dif­fer­ent from Bol­ly­wood,” he says. “There are more hand ges­tures and fa­cial ex­pres­sions. Bol­ly­wood is a fu­sion, a mix of In­dian with Western styles. We can use hip-hop and jazz, but also fa­cial ex­pres­sion to go with the mean­ing of the song. It’s a sort of freestyle.”

“Bol­ly­wood dance is about be­ing joy­ous. They have taken a lot of el­e­ments from dif­fer­ent In­dian dance forms to make some­thing new, and this style has reached peo­ple all over the world,” says Aditi Man­gal­das, a lead­ing dancer and chore­og­ra­pher of Kathak, a clas­si­cal In­dian dance form char­ac­ter­ized by in­ter­pre­tive hand ges­tures and rhyth­mic foot­work.

Orig­i­nat­ing in north India, Kathak is one of the six ma­jor clas­si­cal In­dian dance forms. Schol­ars trace the tra­di­tion of this dance form to 400 BCE, and its long his­tory stems from the tra­di­tion of sto­ry­telling in an­cient India. Kathak moved from Hindu tem­ples to the royal court and went through sev­eral trans­for­ma­tions ow­ing to the Mus­lim and British in­flu­ences in the sub­se­quent years.

Man­gal­das will be per­form­ing a mix­ture of clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary In­dian dance at the Asia So­ci­ety Hong Kong Cen­ter as part of the India by The Bay fes­ti­val of cul­ture later this month. She is hope­ful of draw­ing a big­ger au­di­ence than her last per­for­mance in Hong Kong in 2006 did, as many more peo­ple seem to have fallen for the charm of In­dian dance in the last decade.

Hong Kong lo­cal Tina Chan, who has been at­tend­ing Bol­ly­wood dance classes on week­ends for a year, is look­ing for­ward to the per­for­mance. When asked why she is drawn to In­dian dance, Chan says the ex­pres­sive­ness of the move­ments makes her feel happy, at­trac­tive, free and full of life when she per­forms.

“I think Bol­ly­wood dance is a great choice for be­gin­ners to get a feel of In­dian dance styles be­cause it’s a good mix and has some fa­mil­iar Western in­flu­ence. I’m in­ter­ested in learn­ing more tra­di­tional In­dian dance forms too,” she says.

Muchakarla Ra­jesh, a renowned dance in­struc­tor who has taught Bol­ly­wood and In­dian dance in Hong Kong for more than a decade and is the founder of the Ra­jesh Dance In­sti­tute in Hong Kong, says Bol­ly­wood dance is pop­u­lar also be­cause it is eas­ier to learn than clas­si­cal In­dian dance forms.

“If you re­ally want to mas­ter clas­si­cal In­dian dance, you need to give it at least seven years. It’s not easy to learn and needs many years of prac­tice. If you don’t start learn­ing as a child, it’s hard to han­dle the ba­sics,” he says.

“But there is in­creas­ing in­ter­est I think be­cause it’s very at­trac­tive and has dif­fer­ent kinds of rhythms. The steps, the beat and music are very dif­fer­ent from other types of dance pop­u­lar in Hong Kong,” he adds.

Man­gal­das is look­ing to ex­pand aware­ness re­gard­ing the reper­toire of In­dian dance styles that peo­ple in Hong Kong have ac­cess to. “Dance is an in­ter­na­tional lan­guage. Al­though Kathak has roots and his­tory in India, it can reach out to dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions,” says Man­gal­das.

She sees dance — even clas­si­cal dance — as a grow­ing art form that is con­stantly be­ing rein­vented. And she wel­comes re­spect­ful, har­mo­nious change.

“The only way to pre­serve some­thing is through con­ser­va­tion with ex­plo­ration,” she says. “You need to have a sense of the con­tem­po­rary. You have to be open to change and the pulse of to­day.”

She em­pha­sizes that In­di­anstyle dancers can be from any­where in the world, not only India. For in­stance, Gilles Chuyen, who will be giv­ing a work­shop on Bol­ly­wood danc­ing at the India by the Bay fes­ti­val, is French.

Ra­jesh’s view is rather sim­i­lar. “My stu­dents are mainly Chi­nese. Some have learned with me for many years and have gone from be­gin­ners to be­com­ing pro­fes­sional dancers,” he says.

“When you’ve gone through rig­or­ous train­ing and you re­ally know the dance form, you can be­gin to break bound­aries,” says Man­gal­das.

She started danc­ing at the age of 5, was trained by lead­ing gu­rus Shri­mati Ku­mu­dini Lakhia and Pan­dit Birju Ma­haraj. Man­gal­das is now look­ing to break new ground by us­ing her knowl­edge of Kathak to evolve con­tem­po­rary dance and com­bine it with the spirit of the clas­si­cal.

“I come with an open mind. I’m mak­ing this jour­ney hop­ing to per­form here more of­ten and build an au­di­ence. The au­di­ence pro­file I’m hop­ing to see in Hong Kong is one that in­cludes Chi­nese peo­ple, the ex­pat com­mu­nity and the di­verse pop­u­la­tions that Hong Kong rep­re­sents,” Man­gal­das adds. “As a dancer, I’m a com­mu­ni­ca­tor. Some things are universal — it doesn’t mat­ter who you are or where you are.

Back in 1936 it took eight days and 23 stops — to change air­craft and re­fuel — to reach Lon­don from Hong Kong! Nowa­days sev­eral car­ri­ers will fly you to Lon­don in a lit­tle over 13 hours. So why choose an air­line over the oth­ers? The cater­ing stan­dards of an air­line mat­ter a lot to me. Poor choices and in­dif­fer­ent meals can make a jour­ney mis­er­able, just as care­fully crafted dishes can make the ex­pe­ri­ence the high­light of the whole trip. So it was with great in­ter­est that I went to meet British Air­ways’ head of cater­ing, Colin Tal­bot and menu, de­liv­ery and safety ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Seath, who had touched down on Hong Kong re­cently.

Ap­pro­pri­ately, we met up over lunch at Cor­ner Kitchen, a small bou­tique cook­ing school, in Cen­tral. May 1 on­wards British Air­ways will in­tro­duce a spe­cial menu to mark their 80th an­niver­sary of fly­ing the Hong Kong-Lon­don route. I got a chance to sam­ple bite-size of­fer­ings from their new menu.

"We're tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from menus dat­ing back to the Fifties and Six­ties, us­ing lo­cally sourced ingredients," said the duo in charge.

The se­lec­tion was as­ton­ish­ing. The dishes were crafted with great care, ar­ranged in a way that was eye-catch­ing and de­li­cious with­out ex­cep­tion. The veg­e­tar­ian dishes were top qual­ity both in the looks and taste de­part­ments. A sim­ple char-grilled to­mato with as­para­gus and moz­zarella cheese was se­duc­tively tasty.

The fish se­lec­tions in­cluded a salmon fil­let with caviar and wasabi basil sauce, as well as a cured batik salmon with French rata­touille, ac­com­pa­nied by an an­chovy sauce and a very del­i­cate spicy oil. The Hal­ibut (a fish I con­sider the king of the sea) was served with just mashed potato and a lit­tle cau­li­flower. It takes a mas­ter chef to know when enough is enough!

Meat dishes in­cluded beef short rib with mashed potato and red wine sauce, and a lus­cious plump duck breast. This sec­tion was served with a va­ri­ety of sauces and condi­ments. At the end of the day this was an im­pres­sive ar­ray of ex­cel­lent dishes, pre­sented with great care and flair.

And to cap it all, British Air­ways have just in­tro­duced their lat­est homage to dis­cern­ing palates — their very own ex­clu­sive British Air­ways pre­mium gin. It’s an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent of the iconic G and T — the time­less English cock­tail — whose main botan­i­cals are basil, rose­mary and thyme.

The spirit is cre­ated by the Cam­bridge Dis­tillery which also makes a blend es­pe­cially for the House of Lords which is on sale in the British Par­lia­ment. The British Air­ways gin is served to passengers fly­ing first class at The Con­cord Room bar in Lon­don Heathrow Air­port's Ter­mi­nal 5. Mak­ing the move into spirit craft­ing is es­sen­tially a smart de­ci­sion on the part of the air­line as gin and tonic is a fa­vorite of the air­line’s cus­tomers who sip more than three mil­lion of th­ese ev­ery year!

NB: British Air­ways cur­rently op­er­ates 14 non-stop flights a week be­tween Hong Kong and Lon­don, and it is the only air­line to fly the Su­per­jumbo Air­bus A380 on the route.

“Bol­ly­wood dance is about be­ing joy­ous. They have taken a lot of el­e­ments from dif­fer­ent In­dian dance forms to make some­thing new.” Aditi Man­gal­das,

Kathak dancer-chore­og­ra­pher

Muchakarla Ra­jesh (cen­ter) of Ra­jesh Dance In­sti­tute, Hong Kong, says lo­cal en­thu­si­asts are prob­a­bly drawn to the sev­eral dif­fer­ent rhythms of In­dian dance forms.

A cured batik salmon dish fig­ures in British Air­ways’ spe­cial menu to mark the 80th an­niver­sary of Hong Kong-Lon­don flights.

Hal­ibut served with mashed potato and cau­li­flower is about keep­ing things nu­anced and min­i­mal.

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