Culture / dance

This is Apsara Arts

15 March 2023

This week saw the launch of Croydon’s London Borough of Culture programme, ahead of the opening event in a couple of weeks. So what better time to have another chat with one of the organisations involved. Third up we find out more about Apsara Arts – an organisation which promotes, shares and makes Asian arts accessible to all, celebrating diverse cultures and bringing people together. Here we catch up with Apsara Arts’ artistic lead Malti Patel.

Croydonist: First of all, Croydon native or convert?

Malti: Native, I’ve lived in Croydon most of my life.

Croydonist: Can you tell us a bit about the history of Apsara Arts?

Malti: Apsara Arts’ journey started 25 years ago offering Indian dance training to all ages at weekends. As demand grew we opened more classes and were producing annual dance shows at the Fairfield Halls till it closed for renovation. We were also part of the team that initiated the first Croydon Mela in 1997. The Mela gave us a bigger landscape in showcasing the diverse Asian art forms and increased the participation of Indian arts. Our interest in heritage lead us to produce larger programmes like the ‘Global Gujaratis’, ‘Saree Reinvented’ in engaging the community in their stories and working with Museums and educational bodies. As an organisation we are continuing evolving with the fast moving changes. During the pandemic, we created a virtual exhibition ‘My home is my castle’ recording lockdown stories that culminated into 24 short films covering experiences from the joy of a new baby to bereavement. The findings of these stories were shared with wider bodies including the GLA in gaining more understanding of the impact of the lockdown on communities.

Croydonist: What’s the meaning behind the name?

Malti: In Indian mythology, Apsaras are sensual celestial dancers who live in the heaven of the god Indra. There are many stories about Apsaras. The one we like is – It is believed that God would occasionally send the Apsaras to earth to distract the meditating monks to cause mischief.

Croydonist: Who is the team behind Apsara?

Malti: The Apsara team is made up of dedicated trustees, volunteers and freelance artists who produce and deliver participatory projects in community and educational settings. I am the artistic lead of the team.

Croydonist: What’s your background in the arts?

Malti: I was a banker and kathak dance was a hobby. Disenchanted with my regular job, I drifted into the art world thinking I will do this for a while and then get a ‘proper job’. I am still looking for that ‘proper’ job!

Croydonist: How will you be involved in Croydon’s London Borough of Culture?

Malti: We are partnering with Museum of Croydon on the ‘Croydon Musical Trail’ project to collect stories of the Croydon artists and curate an exhibition at the Fairfield Halls.

Our partnership with the Croydon Mela team continues and we will be performing and programming events at the Mela at the Wandle Park. We are also looking forward to curating an exciting programme of screening Bollywood films at the David Lean cinema & exploring changes in wedding traditions through community stories. The exhibition of this research will be shared with the wider community with a celebratory event of Bollywood dances at the Croydon Clocktower.

Croydonist: Can you tell us a bit about your current exhibition at the Museum of Croydon?

Malti: The ‘I saw a god dance’ exhibition explores the extraordinary life of the dancer Ram Gopal OBE that began in Bangalore and ended in Croydon. The exhibition highlights his contribution of bringing education and appreciation of Indian dance to global audiences. Ram a was distinctive figure in his silk turbans and marvellous jewellery and was called the “Nijinsky of India” by the critics. He spent his last years of life in a care home in Croydon and died in 2003.

There will be a free event of community celebration on 25th March with a screening of our documentary of artists’ discussion on their own dance journeys; a talk by author Ann David on her book ‘Ram Gopal: Interweaving Histories of Indian Dance’ and classical dance performances.

Croydonist: What sort of events and programmes do Apsara Arts offer, and can anyone get involved?

Malti: Apsara Arts offer regular dance training in Kathak, Bollywood and Indian folk to all ages. We also offer workshops in visual arts, storytelling and dance through a range of festival and heritage programmes.

Croydonist: What has been your most memorable event to date?

Malti: ‘The story of London’ was one of many projects that come to mind. We explored British Asian influences on British life and captured their story to create a documentary ‘Chapati & Chips’ that was screened at venues around London. This was followed by a vibrant fashion show at the Whitgift centre, Croydon. The project was selected for a National Epic award and the award ceremony was held at the UK Parliament.

And also not forgetting another event, being at the City Hall when the Mayor of London declared the Borough of Culture award for Croydon. The euphoria and the celebrations that followed still stay vivid in my memory.

Croydonist: Classic interview question – if you had to invite three creatives/performers out for dinner (dead or alive) who would they be?

Malti: I love dance, martial art movies and satire. Having dancer Ram Gopal, Michelle Yeoh and Trevor Noah at the table would be my ‘Everything, Everywhere all at once’.

Croydonist: What are you most looking forward to about the London Borough of Culture?

Malti: Immersing in the diverse cultural events on offer, sharing spaces and conversations with the wider community and setting the world to rights…

Croydonist: What are your three favourite places to go in Croydon?

Malti: Coombe Woods, Tindli Resturant and the David Lean Cinema.

Thank you to Malti for chatting with us. Find out more about Apsara Arts on their website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Read our first Borough of Culture chat with Queer Croydon here

Read our second Borough of Culture chat with Subrang Arts here.

All images courtesy of Apsara Arts.

Posted by Julia

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