Hiten Mistry : Steering holistic living and wellness in the​ UK through Bharatanatyam.

Hiten Mistry is a young, dynamic,dedicated Bharatanatyam performer/teacher and dancer-therapist who lives in Leicester situated in the East Midlands region of UK. He has a BSc Honours in Mass Communications and Sociology. Presently he is studying Masters degree in performance practices from the De Montfort University Leicester. 

What is most special about this highly motivated and talented artist is that he works as a Movement Facilitator in Health settings, and at National Health service (NHS) Leicester, using Bharatanatyam exclusively as the medium for improving the health of patients with mental health and cardiovascular disorders. 

Hiten Mistry  runs a dance company called Bharatanatyam Leicester, and teaches many students both at Leicester and Birmingham.

Here is CSP’s ineterview with Hiten Mistry :

How little were you when you began lessons in  Bharatanatyam? 

I was 8 years old when I began learning Bharatanatyam, I had watched my very first teacher perform Alarippu at my Gujarati school’s Diwali Program and I was instantly attracted to the form, the music, aharya (costume)and energy and felt so drawn to it that I really wanted to start learning. You can say it was a twin flame connection. 

Who are your Natya Acharyas,what traits do you admire in them?

Smita Vadnerkar (Nupur Arts Dance Academy, Leicester U.K) – Extremely hardworking, a diligent teacher who gave a solid foundation in Bharatanatyam. She taught me that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself with total dedication and hard work.She really instills this courage, conviction, and passion for dance in me for which I am so very grateful.

Pushkala Gopal (Samskriti,UK) – Everything about her work on Bharatanatyam has inspired me. I admire  her musicality, her Abhinaya and openminded approach to teaching facial expressions, her choreography is has such amazing ideas, and her mathematical rhythmic calculations are incredible! 

The Dhananjayans ( Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai, India) – I absolutely adore the internationally renowned couple’s style for their clarity, strong nritta (footwork), emotive Bhava and their unique creative presentation-right from costuming to stage. Master and Shanta Akka are my Bharatanatyam Parents. I can watch them for hours and hours. I am fortunate  to be a small part of their magnificent international legacy!

What makes a good performer and good teacher? Can both go hand in hand?

In my opinion, a good performer is one who has a solid grounding in all the elements of Bharatanatyam. A fine proficiency in both Nritta ( pure dance) and Abhinaya(facial expressions), one not overpowering the other but complementing each ability makes a good one on stage. It is a tight rope walk to maintain both. A good performer is one who is able to forget the ego of themselves and transcend the body into molding themselves in the characters, emotions, and narratives being portrayed in the dance they present. 

Being a good teacher requires so many other qualities beyond the skills of being a good performer. For me it is down to the personality of the Artist, are they able to be a good host to their students? Keep them motivated? Inspired? On their Toes? Keep them challenged whilst bringing in lightness to the intensity that can often be associated with the training. BesidesCommunication and PATIENCE are so important!

I would say only few performers are able to be good teachers.

Which part of the UK have you performed and where else ?

I have performed all over the UK Nationally as a student and professional dancer, in community settings, and on the mainstream theatre venues. 

My first experience of performing was exhilarating!It was a huge production based on planets and solar systems called Vyom by CICD,UK in Leicester at the Phoenix Theatre. I loved the ambience of theatre, the excitement of the rehearsals, meeting dance friends, giggling, laughing and enjoying being on stage for the first time in front of public, wearing glittery make up and a new costume, all added to the excitement for me.

I have also performed in France, Italy, Egypt, India.

When did Bharatanatyam spread in UK?

As many Indian Bharatanatyam artists migrated to Britain along came with them  their dance form. In the early days it was the famous dancer Ram Gopal who brought Bharatanatyam and other Indian Dance forms to the major theatre stages around the UK and globally. He was for a long time the toast of Europe for the beauty and authenticity in brought in his dances, interweaving his skilled training in Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, and Manipuri forms. He introduced Britain to the marvelousness of Indian classical dance and performance. Ram Gopal was appointed OBE in 1999!

I was involved in a project called Incarnations – Choreographed by Shane Shambhu for the V&A Museum in London’s exhibition opening of Ram Gopal and his costumes, with the History of Indian Dance in the UK.

What Bharatanatyam topics interest the youngsters in UK ?

Bharatanatyam being such a comprehensive art form can really interest youngsters as an entire art but in particular, the dynamic Nritta (footwork) and Natya (dance drama )elements embodying a story and using  Mudras ( gestures) appeal to them. Rhythm and Music are concepts that can help in the study of Mathematics and would attract students.

How can Bharatanatyam be made more popular than Bollywood?

Bharatanatyam needs to be made more accessible, exploring different types of presentation style, the use of English voiceover or more orchestration in music rather be very sahityam (lyrics)heavy.Melodramatic Abhinaya ( facial expressions) can completely go over the heads of British audiences!

Bollywood is popular as it is catchy, fun and easy to do, people aspire to be like their favourite actors or actresses and want to dance like them. Maybe we need more Bharatanatyam superstars to raise the platform for our art, create innovative platforms to bring mass appeal; but there is a fear of diluting the essence of the form in doing so. 

My belief is that to experience essence, aesthetics and rigour, BN and it’s inherent spiritual, intellectual, emotional and transcendent qualities will always exist, people will seek to experience this and our art form will live on for centuries to come!

How has dance made you reach out to natives in UK ?

My work is predominantly in Bharatanatyam, whether I am dancing  in health settings (Hospitals, Day centres, Care homes) or teaching in my dance company or conducting a workshop, or performing in a stage , it is Bharatanatyam everywhere. 

British audiences love the storytelling and challenging nritta (footwork).  In my work with the National Health Service, people are beginning to see the Holistic and Therapeutic benefits of Indian Dance. I regularly engage with these patients in hospital wards, care homes and day centres.

One of my many dreams is to conduct in depth research into the area of using Bharatanatyam in a creative capacity as an holistic therapeutic approach to improving health and well being of people. 

How do they feel after your therapeutic sessions ?

Those who engage in this work really see the benefits of Bharatanatyam  beyond its visual magnificence as a performing art. I make them try footwork, and hand gesture movements. This definitely helps to increase levels of their activities, motor movements. They feel infused with a new sense of hope that helps them heal and I feel so blessed to care for their well being.

What are your challenges and rewards?

I would say my biggest challenge are the gatekeepers in the fraternity, financial support for my work, access to opportunites that are few and far in between, and people in your own sector who sabotage you . All these threaten and jeopardise the development of the dance. 

My biggest reward is seeing the joy, relief and the positive effects my work has on the people, my students who I teach on a regular weekly basis, and the dance therapy I do at the NHS. I have had people in bounteous joys and moved to tears in my performances. These moments reinforces my resolve to work, create and reach out more. 

Where do you like to perform in India ?

I would like to perform all over India but as a Bharatanatyam dancer getting approval of your artistry is paramount in Chennai! I would very much wish the support of Govt of India for the various art projects I have in mind.

What are your artistic goals?

In a nutshell, my goals are to serve my art form to the best I can in my capacity, create a home for my dance work and to able to make British people and the society see how dance movements can make a great positive difference in their lives. I wish to tour throughout the country and abroad with my productions, along with my community of dancers. I desire to raise the global profile of Bharatanatyam. 

How long would you like to be dancing?

I Dance therefore I AM. It is more than my identity, something I cannot describe. Bharatanatyam is my happy place, my companion. It is the truth of my existence. I am definitely one of Lord Nataraja’s chosen ones to serve this great art. I am humbled and blessed. 

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