Ash Mukherjee

Hello. I’m Ash Mukherjee. I’m an Indian classical dancer. I also choreograph and teach using music from the Indian film industry. I was born in Calcutta, now Kolkata. Calcutta is generally regarded as the cultural capital of India. I was passionate about rhythm. My dad played the tabla. My mum was a Hindustani classical singer. I would see Hemaji or Shambhu Maharaj and all these amazing people or Birju Maharaj dancing on the screen and that was what was really inspiring because these were great classical dancers who were dancing in film.

Then I went to Uday Shankar Cultural Centre and Uday Shankar’s wife, Amala Shankar took me under her wing briefly and I remember she really encouraged my love of improvisation and, you know, we would learn their repertoire as well.

I learnt Bharata Natyam from her (Guru Thankamani Kutti). It was a great place to be because we were learning the root of all South East Asian dance forms. The great thing about India is that it kind of… there is this osmosis, and seeps in every culture and, and takes it and distils it then gives it back Indianised. My first job as a dancer was actually in the company, because it was Kalamandalam School and Company. So I became a soloist in the company and then I became a principal dancer when I was about thirteen so I was quite young.

I went to London Studio Centre and I was very lucky to have some incredible teachers there, like Brenda Last and David Ashmole and Dollie Henry teaching me ballet and jazz. Then after I graduated I went back to India and I set up the Indian Ballet Academy. We literally taught kids from every kind of background whether they were children of the streets or they came from very affluent homes. The soundtrack of their lives was Bollywood music. They realised that they can do ballet. They can use ballet vocabulary to Bollywood music. So there was this really interesting mix that was going on there.

I came here – I was working with a company, an Indian classical dance company, and we contributed towards making this piece which won The Place Prize. So that was quite interesting because that took us everywhere, you know, to the States and to Europe and, so I got to teach a lot over there. I was teaching Indian classical dance mainly, but then back in London again, I started teaching Bollywood dancing. I taught Indian classical dance and in the class itself there were some people going, you know, there’s the great piece of music I really want to dance to, and that could have been, sometimes a great piece of jazz music, or a great piece of classical music and some of the times, it was Bollywood music. And it was just as legitimate and so we started choreographing to it.

Once these students get into Indian dance or Bollywood dance, they realise it’s not that exotic after all. It’s a very universal language because we all have bodies, we all use our hands and eyes when we talk. In Bollywood dance or Indian dance, it’s just heightened, that’s all.

We’re teaching them the words, or the steps and it’s up to them how they want to say it. And I have absolutely no right to stifle their creativity. And that’s kind of one of my main principles about teaching dance. So, yeah, that’s one of the ways to use classical – is it brings focus, it brings all those, you know, heightened sense of musicality, heightened sense of projection.