Interview: Seeta Patel on The Rite of Spring

Seeta Patel portrait

This week Seeta Patel, the award-winning choreographer and dancer, begins a tour of her seminal and critically acclaimed show The Rite of Spring with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Visiting tour Poole, Manchester and Basingstoke, the show sees Patel unite Stravinsky’s iconic score with Bharatanatyam, the South Indian dance form.

Normally seen in solo presentations, this is a rare chance to see Bharatanatyam performed in an ensemble piece with a company that includes 2022 BBC Young Dancer of the year Adhya Shastry.

Ahead of the tour opening we spoke with Patel about the piece and her twenty years in the industry both as dancer and as the choreographer of her eponymous dance company Seeta Patel Dance. 

Q&A with Seeta Patel

You’re about to mark your 20th year as a dancer in the industry – how does it feel to be approaching such a milestone?

The milestones of decades passing can kind of creep up on you – you turn around one day and it’s been twenty years. So much has happened during that time, not only personally – the opportunities and experiences I have had and the many highs and lows – but also the changes that have happened globally in that period – over twenty years, you experience a generation shift, not to mention the seismic political changes, and it can be overwhelming to think how all this has impacted me as a person and as an artist.

So, I think the milestone is a good reminder to take a moment to reflect, especially since this 20th year of my professional career carries with it some of my biggest achievements, both with receiving National Portfolio Organisation status from Arts Council England and presenting my most challenging and largest-scale works accompanied by the amazing Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on Sadler’s Wells’ main stage. I feel very grateful and proud of what I have accomplished, and I’m looking forward to the exciting things planned for the coming years.

What can you tell us about your production of The Rite of Spring?

Our production of the Rite of Spring blends Stravinsky’s score with the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam. It is an ensemble piece with a cast of 10 and is accompanied by The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra led by their principal conductor, Kirill Karabits.

It has many elements faithful to the original. I took inspiration from the original sections and titles to help build my narrative, however there are some changes, for example I have a different interpretation of the Chosen One.

Photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou

What was it about Stravinsky’s classic score that inspired you to unite it with Bharatanatyam?

I didn’t set out from the start with the ambition to create a piece for the Rite of Spring. It started out as an experiment – I wanted to challenge myself to create an ensemble piece using Bharatanatyam. I looked at some pieces that are typically done, or built for an ensemble format, for example Swan Lake, The Rite of Spring, Bolero – pieces from the Western contemporary and Ballet Canon.

I thought if I was going to create an ensemble piece, I should go to the place where the music lends itself to it. So I experimented with a few pieces but it was when I started working with the Rite of Spring that it became immediately clear that Stravinsky’s score and Bharatanatyam work incredibly well together, they fit together perfectly and the power and rhythmic nature of Bharatanatyam elevates the music. So it was really through that experiment that I found The Rite of Spring. It wasn’t something I had always dreamed of, it wasn’t part of upbringing or culture, I came to it later in life.

What has it been like working with the company, including 2022 BBC Young Dancer winner Adhya Shastry?

It has been so wonderful working with my company of dancers and incredible behind the scenes team. The dancers are from all over the world, and it has been a joy to see them come together in my work. Every time I work with new Bharatanatyam dancers, I get such pleasure seeing them experience something different and new for their minds and bodies. 

And bringing together a team who grow and learn so much from each other is inspiring. 

As famous as The Rite of Spring is in the Western world, it’s not as well known in the world on Bharatanatyam. So every time I bring new dancers into the company I feel like I also experience the power of the music again as I explain and break it down. 

The youngest member of the cast is our apprentice dancer Adhya Shastry. I met her for the first time in the last BBC Young Dancer programme where I mentored and choreographed a piece on her. She went on to win the whole competition and I was delighted she was able to work with my company in this iconic production. It is so refreshing and energising to work with Adhya. She is so hardworking, talented and brings so much energy to my work. I very much look forward to her journey as a dancer as I have no doubt she will do many exciting things.

Seeta Patel’s The Rite of Spring opens on the 15 November  at the Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, 21 November, The Lowry, Salford and 23 November, The Anvil, Basingstoke.