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‘Forbidden’ – Iconic Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas unpicks culture’s control over women’s physical desires…

‘Forbidden’ – Iconic Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas unpicks culture’s control over women’s physical desires…

Often seen as taboo, maestro challenges preconceptions in new solo work premiering in the UK tomorrow …

SHE IS WIDELY seen as one of the great exponents of Kathak dance and her latest piece, ‘Forbidden’ is a first in several ways.

Aditi Mangaldas’ latest dance composition is about female desire and how this energy and force is often controlled, regimented, and quite routinely shamed.


In what is an original work, Mangaldas mixes the Indian classical form with something more contemporary and addresses concerns that have grown over time for her personally but are not a response to an incident or anything specific.

Describing ‘Forbidden’, to in a video call between London and her home in New Delhi, she said: “It is a story of awakening, of the dream of the fragrant flower, of then, that fragrant flower becoming a cage and then having the whole sense of playing a game.

“There is denial, adornment, there is seduction, and then there is rage.”

Coming to Sadler’s Wells in London for tomorrow (October 13) and Saturday, she is an impassioned advocate for women to own their sexual desire and not feel ashamed or sullied by it.

“It’s a basic need of humanity. Desire is like eating – nobody would criticise you for eating. It’s part of our human existence.”

She added: “‘Forbidden’ is about women and desire. It isn’t about my sexuality or any particular person’s – but there are so many impositions – women are controlled and sanctioned and judged and eventually punished (for desiring).”

It is conceived in the spectacular – at one point the floor shifts and cracks beneath Mangaldas’s dancing feet and her ankle bells (ghungroos) become tentacles reaching from the past.

Mythology and history tell the same story over and over again – whatever the culture – women who desire need to be controlled, sanctioned and often punished.


Whether societies are conservative or liberal, Mangaldas argues that, in essence, there are not huge differences and that because she lives in India and grew up there, its own stories of  perceived ‘transgression’ and ‘impropriety’ are best known to her.

Mangaldas cites an Indian mythological story where a woman who is carrying a pot of water on her head as one of her daily chores, chances upon a man she finds attractive.

Aditi Mangaldas speaking to acv (screengrab)

“She has an erotic thought – there’s nothing else.

“It’s just a thought and even though this man turns out to be the god Indra and her husband – she’s turned into stone (for having such thoughts).

“Being turned into stone is not about the ending of your desires but the ending of your existence completely, making you non-human, immobile, and an inanimate object. What an awful punishment that is -?”

Mangaldas wants to provoke debate and inquiry and for women to realise that at many levels, they are being told to think a certain way about their own desires.

“Why is it that we are scared of female sexual desire? Why have we used so many diabolical and sometimes very direct ways to curb it?”

Forbidden’ premiered last year in India and is coming to the UK for the first time – not just in London, but to Newcastle as well on October 20.


The reaction to ‘Forbidden’ in India was positive – it is not, generally, a society that recognises female desire positively -at least in modern times and ever since it was colonised.

“India is a much more conservative place than the West in terms of sexuality and people expressing their sexuality.

“Obviously, the culture is different. I was pleasantly surprised – the reaction to ‘Forbidden’ was heartwarming – it was heartening to see so many young people who reacted to it positively.”

Told in three distinct parts and just over an hour long, the 63-year-old Mangaldas told acv she is contemplating her retirement from dancing.

“I am near it now, and of course at some point it will happen, but until then let me be in this moment and share my passion for dance. We still have projects over the next couple of years.”

Composer Nicki Wells has created what is described as an “epic soundscape” that weaves vocals, tabla, pakhawaj with cello and both classical compositions and spoken text.

Other creatives Mangaldas also acknowledged in the making of ‘Forbidden’, include dramaturg Farooq Chaudhry; lighting designer Michael Hulls, costume designer Kimie Nakano and mentor Morag Deyes.


Mangaldas speaks with all the passion and verve of someone just starting out – brave, bold, energetic and positive.

“I want to put it across as honestly, as passionately, with as much abandon and honesty and humility that I can. I mean, that’s all an artist can do.”

Forbidden’ was commissioned by Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – The Drishtikon Dance Foundation, co-commissioned by Sadler’s Wells, London; the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore; and supported by Dance City, Newcastle and Rajika Puri.

All pictures except where indicated – Von Fox Promotions


Friday (October 13) and Saturday (October 14) 7.30pm
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4TN

Friday, October 20 7.30pm
Nothern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 7RH

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture