Distinction with flying colors
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,
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.