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Meet Ishita Mili of IMGE Dance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ishita Mili.

Ishita, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember. My Bengali family would always sing and dance at every opportunity they could get, so I was exposed to lots of Indian classical, fusion and folk music as I was growing up. By the age of 4, I was choreographing my own solos and was basically the superstar of my own reality. I trained in Bharatanatyam under my guru Smt. Sudha Devulapalli and Indian contemporary fusion under my uncle Sukalyan Bhattacharjee throughout my youth. But when I hit my rebel teen years, I transitioned hip hop to figure out my own identity. In all the styles I explored, I struggled with finding space to talk about narratives that I cared about, that were relevant to current reality. So I embarked on the journey to use all of my dance forms as a global movement language that could speak to anyone.

Has it been a smooth road?
Of the many mountains and obstacles that come with being a 2nd generation immigrant, Bengali Indian, ex-medical student, tiny, female choreographer, one of the questions I’ve been persistently battling with is how to be respectful of traditions while innovating. Being trained in Indian Classical dance, I was taught to work within an extremely complex and system of rules and acceptable behaviors dating back to 1000+ years. Then practicing hip hop and street styles, I am also a guest in the deeply beautiful, diverse, yet political history of Black culture rooted in oppression. The struggle is not just doing due diligence to create work respectfully but also communicating depth of cultural sensitivity without becoming exoticized by the industry, art institutions and audiences.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the IMGE Dance story. Tell us more about the business.
I founded IMGE (Ishita Mili Global Exposé, pronounced “image”) in 2017 as a dance company focused on storytelling based in a global movement vocabulary. Inspired by Indian classical, hip hop, and contemporary dance, IMGE is passionate about reimagining how movement connects our experiences. IMGE’s dancers come from all different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities who come together to create the true definition of fusion. We develop multimedia performances with cross-cultural music, film, and theater that challenges boundaries and ask questions. In the past year, IMGE performed for some of the most prominent NYC venues including Lincoln Center and New Victory Theater, debuted in India, and created full-length production “Territory” for the Seattle International Dance Festival. We received multiple standing ovations and exchanged ideas with audiences all over the world. No matter who you are or where you come from, there is always something in IMGE’s work that you can connect to and take back with you.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The entire performing arts industry has been flipped upside down due to COVID-19. Despite the overbearing challenges this has brought to artists who rely on lives stages, this is also a unique opportunity to innovate within the digital landscape. Because of the additional social issues being brought to light right now, there is also overdue pressure to provide more equity in the performing arts industry to diverse voices. IMGE is entering the short film and virtual performance spaces to use movement in different mediums, while also addressing the current political, cultural, and environmental unrest. I believe the need for impactful dialogue is more important now than ever in this era of rapid change and cultural awakening. Hopefully, the intense stress this industry is going through will create a truly long-lasting change.

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Image Credit:

Matt Furman, Jamie Holland, Joseph Lee, Kevin Yatarola, Mark Salud, Michael Danila

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