• Mumbai girl to become first ever ballerina to represent India internationally

    Shraddha UchilMumbaiAug 05, 2017, 08:50 IST

    Parikh with her teacher, Apeksha Bhattacharyya. Pics/Nimesh Dave
    Parikh with her teacher, Apeksha Bhattacharyya. Pics/Nimesh Dave

    When you first meet her, Priyanshi Parikh comes off as your garden-variety 13-year-old. She walks into the studio in her school uniform and greets us with a shy smile, her eyes crinkling through her bespectacled face. Five minutes later, she has taken off her glasses and changed into her leotard, and is putting on her pointe shoes - baby pink with satin ribbons. Then, she stands up, and transforms into another person.

    In place of the unassuming girl stands a ballerina with poise and grace that would make a beauty pageant winner envious. Tchaikovsky's composition for Swan Lake fills the room, and she goes up on her toes, gaining not just a few inches in height, but also in confidence. She's now traversing the length of the studio, doing the pliés and chaîné turns that are part of the solo she will perform at the Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition, where dancers aged seven to 19 from 15 countries will gather in Hong Kong next week.

    The event is significant, because Parikh will be the first India-trained ballerina to participate in it. This makes Apeksha Bhattacharyya, her teacher and founder of Indian Academy of Russian Ballet (IARB), immensely proud. "We know she was the first from India because when we were filling out the application form online, India didn't even feature in the available options. We had to reach out to the organisers and ask them to add it in, so we could apply," she says.

    Parikh departs for Hong Kong today, and will be there until next Saturday. She's training hard, she tells us between breaks. "I practise four times a week, for six hours. When I'm at home, I spend an hour daily working on my flexibility. The solo has complicated turns that I need to perfect," says the Class 8 student of Utpal Shanghvi Global School.

    What you would never guess after watching Parikh dance is that she's been doing ballet for only around four years, when many take it up when they're as young as four. "We moved to Bangkok when I was little. In school, we had gymnastics class, and my teacher was a ballet dancer. She inspired me to pursue it," she says. So, when the family returned to India in 2013, she couldn't wait to begin her journey. That's when she met Bhattacharyya, who had started teaching ballet using the Vaganova method, which is rare to come by in Mumbai.

    The 27-year-old teacher tells us that while Parikh's participation at an international level is a great sign, ballet has a long way to go before it is taken seriously in India. Which is why, although young, Parikh is as pragmatic as they come. "When the time comes to pick a career, I will be a graphic designer, as I love art. But, this doesn't mean I'll stop doing ballet."

    But all this is in the future. For now, when Parikh returns from Hong Kong, she will be in a ballet rendition of Goldilocks and the Three bears with other IARB students at St Andrew's Auditorium. "I am one of the bears," she says excitedly, flashing us her trademark smile and moving away to give those tough-to-crack chaîné turns another go.

    What is the Vaganova method?
    It is named after Agrippina Vaganova, a renowned ballet dancer from Russia. In the 1920s, Vaganova integrated the best aspects of various ballet styles into a coherent system. This system is taught today at The Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia, a school established in 1738 and renamed in honour of the dancer.

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    Ballet in Mumbai

    >> Indian Academy of Russian Ballet
    At: Centres across Mumbai
    Log on to: iarb.in 
    Call: 9987653453

    >> The School Of Classical Ballet and Western Dance
    At: 41, Casa Grande, Little Gibbs Road, Malabar Hill. 
    Log on to: balletindia.com 
    Call: 23676534

    >> Bella Academy for Ballet
    At: Russian Centre for Science and Culture, Peddar Road.
    Log on to bellaacademy.in
    Call: 9920223368

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