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Breaking down cultural boundaries through dance

In the latest of our PhD student spotlight features, we spoke to Shambik Ghose, a contemporary dancer who is creating a new style of dance – fusing the classical North Indian dance, Kathak, and Western Jazz - and a teaching programme to accompany it.

Shambik Ghose dancing

What is your PhD all about?

My PhD is about dance, performance, and the practice of teaching and learning. I am creating a hybrid of two distinctive cultural dance styles – the North Indian classical dance, Kathak, and the Western Jazz dance technique. My research is an attempt to devise a physical training programme for contemporary dancers and teachers - along with a dance teaching and performance language system - that emerges out of this hybrid of styles.

Why did you choose this topic?

After graduating in Musical Theatre Dance from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, I have been involved in choreographing, teaching, performing and directing for world-renowned companies all around the globe for the last 15 years. I also founded my company - Rhythmosaic - with my wife and artistic partner, Dr Mitul Sengupta.

Throughout my career, I have been intrigued by the different cultural perspectives that I have encountered through my creative collaborations.

I became fascinated with the rich cultural heritage of movement in India; and meeting Mitul stimulated my artistic and academic research with Kathak dance - which is her domain of movement expression. I wanted to find a common language which brings together two exceptionally rich cultures as one dialogue.

Contemporary dance is well-known for pushing boundaries and questioning existing practices. Kathak and Western Jazz are two styles which are not often used as a form of training and choreographic practice in today's contemporary dance.

So, a very important aspect of my research is to delve into cultural perspectives and open people’s perceptions about the world's different philosophies, aesthetics, ethos, heritage and - most importantly - its people. I believe my research will also encourage and invite cultural tolerance - which is so important in today's world of living, understanding and artistic practices.

Shambik Ghose in rehearsals with dancers in Black Waters

Shambik at the rehearsals for Black Waters. Credit: Camilla Greenwell

Why Leeds Beckett?

I got to know about Leeds Beckett when I was invited to the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Romania to present my dance company’s work. Leeds Beckett students and staff were also at the festival. I was then offered a scholarship to study MA Choreography at the University in 2018. The academics who taught me in the MA were exceptional and they are now my PhD supervisors.

The most important and exciting part of LBU is that it believes in an open and expanded form of education, and that is why I chose Leeds Beckett as my research centre for my PhD. You are provided with all the guidance, knowledge and expertise needed to follow your educational dreams the way you want to.

What’s the best thing about doing a PhD?

Excavating knowledge is the best thing about doing a PhD for me. It’s a space where your practice embraces academic excellence. It’s an opportunity where you are encouraged to make a difference to the current ways of thinking - sharing and contributing your new-found knowledge during the course of your research journey, for the betterment of world culture and society. 

Shambik Ghose dancing

This image and top image, credit: Swaroop Dutta

And what’s been the biggest challenge so far?

As I am working with the sensitive aesthetics and ethos of two exceptionally rich dance cultures - Indian Kathak and Western Jazz - my biggest challenge has been how to tackle the tension which will surface during the experimental process of hybridising the two forms. I am concerned about the purism that exists among those who articulate their practice in these forms.

My biggest concern is how I will rationalise my position in the preservation of tradition, whilst researching the new knowledge that contests the age-old heritage of both the forms. The point of debate is how this new form of movement will contribute and contest the existing system of contemporary artistic practice by providing a whole new way of conscious thinking. 

What is your proudest achievement to date?

There have been some memorable moments in my life to cherish. But there is one that I will keep at the top - when I was invited to co-choreograph, with Sharon Watson and Mitul Sengupta, for the world-renowned Phoenix Dance Theatre’s latest creation Black Waters.  This experience was priceless as I was the first Indian to co-choreograph for Phoenix Dance Theatre.

What is your top tip for new research students?

Live your dreams to the fullest. It’s your research - you know the best. Do stop in between, but never quit. Believe in yourself and the world will believe in you. Remember that you are bringing something new, and world is waiting eagerly to receive it.

What do you do to unwind?

I like listening to music and watching detective and horror films.

Where do you want your PhD to take you?

I imagine my research will take me to uncharted seas of never-ending knowledge, where I will be fortunate if I can gather some priceless moments in time and share this with the world.

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