- Date: 28 October 2009
- Artform: Dance
- Area: South East
Dancer and Artistic Director Urja Desai Thakore's funding experience is a small but powerful example of how the Arts Council has nurtured talent right from the beginning. Urja, who works in the Kathak tradition, used the funding to develop new piece Baharan, one of the first professional pieces for her young company Pagrav Dance, but it was only through touring it that she developed her business acumen.
In 2003, the classically-trained Urja left India for new city Milton Keynes and set up Pagrav Dance in 2005. Kathak is one of eight classical dance forms from northern India, borne from the ancient roaming bards known as Kathaks (storytellers) - known for its theatre-style tradition, dancers tell the story through expressive facial movements and hand gestures. In Baharan, two women and one man perform the story, backed by traditional Indian music (sarod, tabla, vocal) and Western classical music (cello) fuses dance and music and a recital of traditional Hindu poetry.
"From a national perspective, there are currently very few emerging South Asian dance artists gaining interest within the national touring circuit," said Jan De Schynkel, Dance Officer for Arts Council England, South East. "By trying to engage with mainstream venues and bringing contemporary practice into her work (primarily with music) Urja is pushing the boundaries."
Baharan was initially a pilot, funded first locally by Milton Keynes Arts Association (MKAA, now Arts Gateway Milton Keynes). Urja knew she needed to study choreography with her old mentor Kumudini Lakhiya in India to make the piece work so she approached the Arts Council for further funding.
Although the piece would eventually be toured, she only applied for £5,724 through Grants for the arts for initial development, followed by £15,710 towards larger-scale development and performances in Milton Keynes and London.
"I was encouraged to apply for small amount of funding as opposed to the whole thing," Urja explained. "Why? Because it was the initial stages of the company and it was good to go one stage at a time. It's better for artistic development."
The piece developed and received an additional £31,900 for a tour in the South East and London, which included five performances and one workshop in Milton Keynes. It was the opportunity to tour that helped shape Urja's fledgling business skills.
"I have a better idea of touring and how to approach venues," said Urja. "At first I said yes to everything I was offered. Some venues did a 50/50 split but I didn't get anything sometimes, but because of the funding I was able to pay the artists. Now I know what kind of fee I should charge at first and then the negotiations begin. Jan helped me a lot to understand this.
The funding helped me meet the balances and also meet unforeseen expenses. It was a 24/7 situation. It has worked like a blessing for me."
Urja is now using her new business know-how and skills as a choreographer to develop a new dance piece called Hats - "it's about the different hats a woman puts on during her life, between personal, emotional and business and trying to strike a balance in her life."