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Dance Tour

A peek into the jam-packed culture and travel diary of Sohini Roychowdhury’s Europe tour

In a chat with The Telegraph, the accomplished Bharatanatyam exponent tells us about the highlights of her tour and her next book

Saionee Chakraborty | Published 08.08.22, 01:27 AM
Sohini Roychowdhury at a performance and interactive session with children in Austria

Sohini Roychowdhury at a performance and interactive session with children in Austria

Sohini Roychowdhury, who studied at Modern High School for Girls,

St. Xavier’s College and Cambridge University, and has Danny Boyle among many others on her illustrious CV, has been on a whirlwind tour of Europe since April. In a chat with The Telegraph, the accomplished Bharatanatyam exponent tells us about the highlights of her tour and her next book.


You have been touring since April. What have been the highlights?

I have been touring since April 20, and grateful to have a packed four months after the long confinement of the pandemic. Actually there have been a few highlights, about four... each magical and special in its own way. I performed at various schools and colleges of Austria, under the Austrian ministry of culture, acclimatising the students from all walks of life to our Vedic culture to broaden their horizon and create understanding and empathy. Storytelling with Bharatanatyam amidst the Alps was challenging and exhilarating as it was interactive and after my performance I taught them a short choreography on nature and us, ‘Purush and Prakriti’ and our audience, the students, danced, holding perfect mudras with full understanding. I was working with children from kindergarten to university students. So I had to change the narrative to suit different age groups and sensibilities.

I performed at open natural spaces, by the lakes, at natural gardens and on the beaches in Austria and Scotland to a large audience who then participated in my masterclasses too at my ‘Hope and Heal’ sessions. The Botanical Gardens at the city of St Andrews hosted two months of hope and healing workshops of dance and we had a varied group of participants who went back with happiness and a rhythm in their hearts. Some of my star students were Akshika from Sri Lanka, a fourth-year student at the university of

St Andrews, Clare, who was 73 years old, and her daughter, a banker, among others. This was special as it redefined the core of Sohinimoksha (Sohini’s dance troupe), that we are all one tribe and there is an artiste, a dancer and a story in every heart, waiting to reach out to be a part of magic and happiness. My dance is an expression of humanism. Now and forever.

I also met Kally Lloyd-Jones, an iconic dancer and director in the UK who has worked all over the world in the most prestigious projects and she came to my ‘Hope and Heal’ with dance sessions. She performed the mudras, the movements and I was bowled over by her humility and grace and deep respect for our Indian art forms.

Performing at the iconic Byre Theatre of St Andrews was a huge honour and a delightful experience, as this is a sprung theatre of baroque times and hosts the topmost artistes of the world. Kristina Veselinova from Bulgaria and Farah Daoud from Iraq, who are currently living in Madrid, also performed to ‘Shiva Speaks’. The sheer joy of performing with my European troupe at The Byre was surreal, especially after two years of online performances. The Scottish audience applauded non-stop and some had tears in their eyes. Such emotional reactions to our performance restores faith, takes us closer to magic, perfection and God. It’s as if we let our creative spirits come out and touch someone else’s heart. That moment of magic and eternity is what we felt.

I think this show is a highlight of my summer concert tour and my life. The pandemic I guess has made me more sensitive and grateful and consciously celebrate nature. And that has been a theme of many of my productions and workshops.

Sohini with son Rishi Dasgupta at the Tagore birth centenary at the Indian consulate in Edinburgh

Sohini with son Rishi Dasgupta at the Tagore birth centenary at the Indian consulate in Edinburgh

What has been the most cherished memory of this extensive trip?

Performing with my son Rishi Dasgupta is definitely one of them. We performed at the Indian Consulate at Edinburgh for Tagore’s 161st birth anniversary as part of the ‘India at 75’ celebrations. He played acoustic guitar to each of Tagore’s poems, composed at various stages of his life, each with a very different aura. I danced to it and it felt very special to be celebrating Tagore together, in Scotland, amidst the Indians there, and we felt a warm flash of home. Rishi is finishing his masters in economics at the St Andrews University in Scotland and loved this experience.

Sohini performs at the Byre Theatre

Sohini performs at the Byre Theatre

When my troupe members and students came in from Spain to perform with me at The Byre, we explored Dundee and Edinburgh together, soaking in the sounds of bagpipes, the surging North Sea, the seagulls flying around us. That bonding and sharing after the confinement was soul food. We artistes are sometimes guilty of bonding more with our students and troupe members than our own families!

And my third moment of complete joy was when seven-year-old Maria in Austria told me, ‘This is the best dance that I have ever seen. How did you possibly perform like that?’ This was a miracle coming from a child who was exposed to the best of ballet and could have found my Varnam boring and alien.

How do you prepare when you are packing for such a long stay? Do you get jitters prior to packing and kind of delay it till the nth hour?

It’s quite stressful actually to pack for the long trips as I am always anxious that I will leave something vital behind. I get severe travel and packing blues and I make a list of things to pack, ticking off each one after placing them in my suitcase. I do it a week before to reduce my anxiety. And it’s usually a never-ending list... from anti-allergic meds to coconut oil to jackets, dance gear and all of that.

What are the must-haves in your suitcase?

Everything in the world as Scotland sometimes sees all four seasons in a single day. But first and foremost my dance costumes, at least four of them, all my Bharatanatyam jewellery with spares for each, a bottle of alta, ghungroos, little gifts, a bottle of coconut oil as a face cleanser after each concert, jumpers and shoes, some saris and trousers, and vacuum-packed sandesh. I also carry organic turmeric everywhere, to eat a piece every day. It’s my miracle food for well-being and far more economical than the exotic ‘Turmeric Latte’ that’s five pounds a cup.

And, in your travel handbag?

I carry one set of dance gear, costume, jewellery, flowers and ghungroos, in case there is a baggage delay. I can still perform at my concerts without a hitch. I carry a framed picture of Ma Kali and a framed picture of my father. Besides I have a fleece jacket with a hood and an extra set of regular clothes in it. A bottle of perfume and a book. A travel size Bhagavad Gita is always in my handbag. That’s about it.

The afternoon tea at Rowley Manor

The afternoon tea at Rowley Manor

Let’s now hear about all the lovely delights you tasted!

A gastronomic experience of a lifetime was at The Rowley Manor, a 400-year-old manor house in rustic East Yorkshire, beautifully put together as a resort hotel. It has the best restaurant ever, the best English breakfast I have had. Their gourmet dishes of lamb, salmon and their desserts were the best I have had. And the afternoon tea was magnificent... the true duchess experience and the most creative, exquisite food. I started with Goat Cheese Bonbons, Red Pepper Coulis, Candy Pecan Nuts, Red Sorrel, Balsamic Syrup and went on to marinated Salmon Fillet, Whitby Crab Cake, Prawn and Wild Garlic Bisque, Salmon Skin Crisp, for the mains, and chef’s duo of chocolate, Double Chocolate Chip Brownie, White Chocolate and Brandy with Strawberry Salsa for dessert!

At St Andrews I fell in love with Jannettas Gelateria, a 112-year-old gelateria, serving award-winning artisan gelato, with 54 flavours on display in the heart of St Andrews, Scotland. In Innsbruck, Austria, Gasthaus Goldenes Dachl, in the old town, was brilliant, and served traditional Austrian cuisine. We had an unforgettable meal here, nestled amidst the Alps.

Tell us what you shopped for.

Little gifts for friends, students, family and troupe members of course, little bits and pieces of my travel. Chocolates of different characteristics from different countries. I love the tartan print of Scotland, so a few scarves for close ones, Scottish shortbreads, and some fragrances, Scottish folk music and books on Nessie the Loch Ness monster for my little nieces to give them an idea of Scottish folklore. And coffee and more coffee for myself!

You are also writing a new book?

Yes. I have finished it. It’s called Stage-Stories, being published by Shubhi Publications. It’s about our Natyasastra and the connection of Bharatmuni to Aristotle’s theory of dramatic unity. I have explored the Navarasa through the prism of cinema. I have spoken of our Ma Kali and Shaktism and Sara La Kali in the west. I have explored bit players like Ahalya from our Ramayana and Gorgon Medusa as victims of patriarchy perhaps? And Shiva, the greatest of feminists ever with the manifestation and the sheer concept of the Ardhanareeswarar… the truly evolved humanist, inclusive, embracing all....

It’s about connecting civilisations, and that we are one. I have written it, gazing at the river in Scotland, and it should be launched around November.

Last updated on 08.08.22, 12:39 PM

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