As part of our YOUTH VOICES SERIES, we share an interview with Gauri Bhatnagar. Gauri began learning kathak at Pandit Chitresh Das’ institution in 2006 at the age of six, and auditioned and was accepted in to the youth company in 2009 when she was nine. She has since performed at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Opera House, Zellerbach Hall, with the Toronto Tabla Ensemble in Toronto, in Los Angeles, and many other prestigious events. Gauri will start teaching at the Chitresh Das Institute this fall.
CDI interviewed Gauri in anticipation of her Youth Company Senior Graduating Showcase performance, Ritu Ke Rang on June 29th, along with her three fellow graduates and guru sisters, Ishani Chakraborty, Ruchira Rao and Atmika Sarukkai.
When do you first remember thinking that this dance was really something you wanted to pour your heart and soul into?
Gauri Bhatnagar (GB) I knew from the beginning. I was, at the time, doing other sports and extracurriculars, but when asked to pick, I knew I'd pick Kathak.
What is the thing you're most scared of?
GB I'm probably most scared about losing all the knowledge, and I hope I continue dancing somehow in my life.
What is the thing you're most excited about with your graduating performance?
GB I'm excited to show people that even though we learn complex patterns and choreographies, we are still able to put simple steps together to create the complexness.
What is next for you with your dance? How will you continue your dance past youth company?
GB I will hopefully be teaching dance next fall, as well as helping with the summer camp program this summer!
What are three things you want people to come away from your performance with?
GB 1. Through injury, comes even more learning. When I couldn't dance, my recitation got so much more improved than it would have if I hadn't gotten injured.
2. Push through times where you don't want to do it, because in the end, it's going to be completely worth it.
3. Enjoy what you do. If you enjoy it, it will be easier to dance and learn. If you don't, then do not force yourself to continue.
I also hope they enjoy the overall performance!
What do you hope for future Youth Company members
GB To work hard, enjoy what they are doing, and to give it their all. I loved my years in Youth Company and will treasure them forever.
Tell us one story about Dadaji that illustrates why he was so important to you and to so many others
GB From day one, he was important. I had always heard how he was scary, but I never understood why and this story strengthened that belief that he wasn't. I was maybe 9 years old, and I was in a room putting my bells on. My back was to a window behind me and the other girls. There was a moment of silence and then a loud "BOO!" I'm pretty sure all of us jumped in our spots. I remember laughing uncontrollably. I then walked out to find my mom, who was talking with Dadaji. I hid behind her legs and poked my head out from the side so that I could see him. He said something to make me smile and then pointed out, "Oh, she has a dimple!" I knew from then he was special to me. He has given a gift to each of the ladies he has taught and come in contact with. He has empowered us to be who we want to be, and to not let anyone tell us otherwise. Especially those “oily haired boys” he always mentioned. He was important in so many ways that I can say, but he was the one person that could put us in check and I always will remember and appreciate that.
Tell us one story about Charlotte Didi that illustrates why she is so important to you and so many others.
GB Charlotte Didi has always been important since day one as well. I wasn't as close to her at first, but over time she grew close to me and the other girls as well. I don't have a specific story, but one thing I love that she does is she will push us till we are sweaty, out of breath, in pain, and then will give us a small break. However, the thing that makes her important is how she cracks jokes and laughs with us during those breaks. She pushed me to my limits and yet can balance it out with her humor. She is an amazing choreographer and beyond beautiful dancer. Her abhinaya is outstanding and I will always aspire to try and get close to that level. I appreciate all the time and energy Charlotte Didi has dedicated to helping us improve as dancers and young women as well.
Tickets for Ritu Ke Rang are sold out but Gauri can be seen on July 6 & 7 with the Chitresh Das Institute dancers performing Charlotte Moraga’s choreography the opening weekend of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival at Zellerbach Hall. For tickets click here. Gauri will start as a teacher at the Chitresh Das Institute this fall.
Photo of Gauri Bhatnagar by Ravi Kohli