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Dominique Delorme is a dancer who leaves an indelible impression on the mind. A French national, who walked away from medical studies in France, landed in India to feel an instant connection with the people and its culture. Dominique says, “Within a week of arriving in India, I gave away all my material possessions to the needy. I deeply felt the social injustice. What struck me most though was that there were some who had no arms or legs but had a smile on their faces. I realized then that we have a soul, an immaterial dimension inside our bodies. My first trip to India was a search for this inner dimension, and it has been my goal since then”. Dominique’s immersion in India and Indian art did not end there. That is where the lifelong commitment started. “For my initial studies, I won a scholarship from the French government and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. I realized very soon that Bharatanatyam was a complex art, and I wanted to learn all the allied arts such as theater, music, poetry, rhythm, languages, and yoga. I would start with yoga at 5 a.m. and finish with Sanskrit late at night”. In the order in which he trained under them, his gurus are Malavika in Paris, V.S. Muthuswamy Pillai (Dance), Anuradha Jagannathan and Kalanidhi Narayanan (Abhinaya), Sulochana Pattabhiraman (Karnatik music), Kamala Rani (Nattuvangam) and Dr. Padma Subramaniam (Natya Shastra). His dedication to the art form was apparent to all who were connected to the arts in Chennai. After his performance at a dance seminar in the late 1980’s he was greeted with a standing ovation, a rarity in the normally conservative sabhas of Chennai. I asked him about how he started work on ‘Nandanar’, a ballet by Gopalakrishna Bharati, a Tamil composer who lived in Chidambaram. It chronicles the life story of the untouchable Nandanar, a farmhand who was denied entry to see his beloved Lord Shiva. The story progresses to describe society’s acceptance of his devotion. Dominique says, “When I came to Chennai in 1987 and learnt “Varugalaamo” a padam that talks of nandanar’s plight from Kalanidhi Narayanan and Anuradha Jagannathan, I was deeply touched by it. Coming from a farmer’s family, I was drawn to his story. When I was a child, my parents didn’t allow me mcuh time to play, listen to music, draw or read. The only thing I was allowed to do was to work in the fields constantly. Later on, I performed “Varugalaamo” for my arangetram in 1990. When I came back to Europe in 1993, I realized that there was a need to adapt the Bharatanatyam recital for Western audiences. In 1994, I built a thematic performance around Nandanar’s character. Seeing me perform ‘Nandanar’, Dr. Padma Subramaniam arranged a tour in many South Indian Saivite temples, and told me that I will never get a better audience than villagers who are so close to Nandanar. This production has evolved a lot since I created it in 1994 with the help of Nita Klein, a French artistic director and sister of Malavika, my first guru”. Dominique says confidently that audiences have always received it well, with some audiences looking at the socio-political aspects whereas others delved deeper into the spiritual as well. He talks of a special performance in Chidambaram where he used a tape-recorder to perform an excerpt in front of Nataraja’s shrine. An old lady who was watching said – You are Nandanar’s reincarnation”. Immediately, he says that he did not feel pride, but reflected upon how they could both relate to his character. In fact, Dominique’s decision to leave his studies to pursue Indian classical dance training was not supported by his family. His parents did not have an education, and he was the only one among their four children who started a college degree. He says, “When I started to pursue dance, my parents did not approve at all”. Since that initial commitment to the pursuit of Indian classical dance, he has evolved and his approach to the form is unique. Dominique’s dancing reflects the precision in movement that characterizes Indian classical dance, and combines it with a deep intellectual connection and love for India as a cultural entity. He symbolizes the universal appeal of our classical dancing traditions that welcomes and is enriched by those who seek artistic and spiritual truths within its core. An offering of dance not to be missed…. Sunday, March 4, 2 and 7 p.m. Co-presented by Arpana Dance Company and Ektaa Center, Ektaa Center, 2691 Richter #105, Irvine. $12, $10 seniors and students (advance purchase); $15, $12 seniors and students (at door on day of event). (949) 874-3662.

Nirupama V.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a writer, dancer and choreographer. She was the former editor of India Currents magazine.