Ishita Bhattacharya, also known as Ishita Mili, is currently pursuing a Masters of Business and Science degree at Rutgers University. She spent most of this past year restructuring her life, because she decided against medical school and wanted to pursue a degree that would enhance her goal of combining and meshing multiple fields. In academics, this meant bringing art and technology to science. In performing arts, this meant intertwining business and dance together. Ishita wants to keep her future open, in order to follower her interests wherever they may lead her.
What styles of dance are you trained in?
Since I was five, I trained in Bharatanatyam under my Guru Smt. Sudha Devullapali, in New Jersey. I completed my arangetram at age 15 and I continue to train with my Guru, as well as with Smt. Malabika Sen in India. I am also trained in Indian contemporary fusion under Sukalyann Bhattacharya, the artistic director of international dance troupe Sukalyann D Entourage. I have been a company dancer and assistant director with Entourage for over 10 years. I have also been a company dancer and co-choreographer for UFP Dance Co., a hip-hop and urban company in New Jersey, for the past five years. Those are my core training styles. Other styles I have dabbled in are contemporary Indian, acrobatics, and contemporary/modern.
What exactly is "Urban Indian" style? How did it come about?
Urban Indian is derived from all of the different sources of my training. It is primarily based in Bharatanatyam and hip-hop/urban dance, but mostly focuses on reanalyzing Indian storytelling. I always felt this sort of torn identity in Bharatanatyam. I felt like a lot of the characters I had to portray in mythology, especially female ones, where just not reflective of who I was. I was constantly placed in stronger characters, for Durga and Shiva, because that is where I was able to emote the best, but I still never really felt like myself. Then I discovered dance videos on YouTube, which led me to find myself falling in love with hip-hop and joining an actual company. But that also did not fully represent who I was. It never spoke to my cultural storytelling side. However, something about combining hip-hop and Bharatanatyam made sense to me. I was not able to figure out what that connection was for a while. Down the line, I always talked about how one day I was going to create something that combined those disjointed parts of my life and then I tore my ACL. That actually became a huge turning point for me. For the first time, I was able to sit back and reflect on all of my years of dance training. I thought about what it all meant at the end of the day and how it represented who I was. Ideas started brewing, I reanalyzed my movement, and a year later I performed my first Urban Indian piece, Ghanan, on stage. Urban Indian developed from when I was able to clarify to myself my own identity as a millennial American Indian dancer. I pulled from all of my experiences and created a movement style that spoke to all parts of me. Bharatanatyam and hip-hop complimented each other, because they have similarities with their connection with the ground and the heavy emphasis on rhythm and sound.
What made you want to start your own dance troupe called IMGE?
Once I started becoming more comfortable with my movement style, I knew I wanted to create something that I could share with larger audiences. I wanted to make Urban Indian something that could be shown in theaters all over the world and that could be used in next generation Bollywood movies. I wanted it to be something of a new dance form that would make Indian dance relevant again and for it to be a brand that can speak to anyone. “IMGE” is pronounced “image,” which reflects my focus on storytelling. It also happens to stand for “Ishita Mili Global Exposé.” Through the East Coast Dance Community, I found dancers from all different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, who could relate to my message and wanted to spread it with me. And so, IMGE is now the first ever formal Urban Indian Dance Troupe and it is growing.
What do you consider your most notable achievement?
I think so far it was recently getting hired by “The Hive,” an urban dance studio, to be a regular Urban Indian teacher. For the hip-hop community to so openly accept Urban Indian as a style tells me that Urban Indian is becoming a global language that can be impactful on a multitude of levels.
What has been your favorite performance thus far?
Slum Stories was one of my favorite videos to shoot, because of the impact it had on the people in that neighborhood that I was dancing in. They did not even know what Urban Indian was, or who I was, but they were so open and happy that I was connecting with the kids of that community. I also enjoyed IMGE’s latest set, because the audience feedback was absolutely wild.
Where do you see your dance career taking you and what do you one day hope to accomplish?
I see Urban Indian being performed for bigger audiences on bigger platforms. I want IMGE to be recognized as an international dance company and I want Urban Indian to extend its reach to people around the globe. I would love to do outreach in underprivileged communities and be able to teach. I think Urban Indian, and dance in general, has such a huge power for social change, because of the impact it can have on people. My ultimate goal is to harness that potential and make the beauty of both Indian and urban dance something that everyone can participate in.
Who is the one person you wish to collaborate with the most on a project? Why?
M.I.A. is hands down my favorite artist of all time. She is one of the few people, in my opinion, who has really been able to go down to the root and do cultural fusion like no one has ever done before. I have already choreographed to some of her songs, but actually getting the opportunity to work with her would be a dream come true.
Fun Facts About Ishita Mili
“Mili” is not my last name. It is actually my Bengali “dak nam” or nickname.
I can do 2 pirouettes on a good day.
My favorite color is rusty orange.