In 2009, Bhatt resurrected his Jackson career—but this time as a show producer—doing two big hit events around the singer’s works. He followed this up with a tribute, Timeless, when Jackson died. The return to his life as a Jackson impersonator also piqued Bhatt’s interest in Kathak. He took up the dance form again, this time as an aware and interested learner.

“MJ moved to vibration, not just beats, and that was so close to what we do in the percussive form in Indian classical dances,” Bhatt said. “And his dance was liberating, like it was dispossessed from the body—you find that intrinsic to Kathak. Look at his emphasis on the small things: the glance, the movement of a single finger—almost like mudras—the placement of the hip…[together with the] delicacy that you note in classical dances.”

Bhatt produced a solo that was choreographed for Odedra by Akram Khan, the wunderkind of Kathak-modern dance, in 2009. Rising, staged at the prestigious British Dance Edition in 2012, drew acclaim for Odedra’s Kathak but not enough buzz to break through the clutter.

“Aakash said we need to get people talking about his dance,” said Bhatt. “So at a gathering of international dancers and producers he asked the DJ to play Jackson and said to me, ‘Go out there and do something.’ I danced—any Jackson work has so much energy [and soon] promoters were circling [around] us with the question ‘Who are you guys?’”

Soon after, Odedra landed his first big performance at the Cinars festival in Canada. He performed Akram Khan’s Rising, which was described by The Guardian dance critic Judith Mackrell as the “dance equivalent of a red-carpet event,” and the rest was dance history. Today, both Jackson and Kathak inform Bhatt’s decisions on production.

“MJ was magical on stage, his work was large-scale [and] audience-focused,” said Bhatt. “Typically, our classical dance performances are not great on scale or audience focused. He taught me the need to ensure that the audiences expect quality and scale in performances.”

This piece was first published on Scroll.in. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com

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