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Zoe Childerley

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Katha kahe so kathak...
The one who tells the story is the kathak...

Photographer Zoe Childerley has recently completed a Masters Degree in Photography at De Montfort University. An experienced graphic designer, Zoe also works extensively with Charnwood Arts and a number of dance companies in Leicester. She will be one of two East Midlands photographers involved in the 'Liquid Light' exchange with Jamacia in the Autumn 2002.

Kathak is a narrative art form born in the temples of Northern India thousands of years ago. The 'kathak' or story-teller narrates Hindu mythologies in either prose or poetry form. The dancer represents all the characters of the story with the help of a repertoire of gestures, facial expressions and graceful movements.

How did you become interested in South Asian dance?

I was introduced to South Asian dance through previous work with physical theatre and contemporary dance and was intrigued by the abundance of historical significance and visual interpretation. I found the language of Indian dance - the abhinaya - the gestures, expressions and movements and how they told a story visually and culturally fascinating. I try to represent this in my photographic interpretation. Kathak is one of the few dance forms in India where spontaneity is still preserved. The rapport between the percussionist and the dancer creates an exciting atmosphere during the performance, as they devise new permutations and combinations of dance.

What makes photographing South Asian dance different from other subject matter?

I believe that with all performance based work it is of vital importance to be sensitive and responsive to the artform. This means putting in considerable research and development time. In fact, that is one of the things I find most rewarding about performance based work, learning about other artforms and their creative and cultural significance.

Can you tell us a bit more about Kathak?

Kathak performances consist of two parts, Nritta and Nritya. The former, the so-called technical part, is a abstract dance with a tremendous sense of rhythm and joy of movement. The beauty of this part of Kathak lies in the exact rendering of the rhythmic patterns, given by the instruments, through graceful body movements and mastery of the artist's footwork. The second part, Nritya, is the explanation of a story or a song through facial expressions, gestures of the hands and symbolic postures of the body. It was important to represent the self awareness required within these performances in my images. It has taken many centuries to finally recognise the true beauty of this dance form and I think that is what attracts audiences and students today.

How did the images you've chosen here come about?

The first group of images were created during a Kathak workshop with the Sangit Sabha group, led by local expert and teacher, Jagdish Gangani, as part of the Leicestershire and Leicester Arts in Education project. I was commissioned by the Asian Dance Officer, Nilima Devi who plays an integral part in organising this, one of many projects aiming to raise awareness and promote participation in Asian Dance. The second group were part of a documentation of the National Kathak Conference 2000 hosted by the Centre for Indian Classical Dance. On the agenda was the past, present and future of Kathak dance teaching in the UK. There were prominent speakers and discussion groups addressing the development, resources and academic profile of South Asian dance studies. Depicted here is the performance part of the conference.

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