On Sunday, August 25th, Bay Area will experience a whole day’s worth of BharataNatyam – Lec-dems, a panel discussion, expert talks, and of course, performances by visiting and US-based artists – at the IDIA event, a festival of BharataNatyam. I got a chance to catch up with the performers. (For more details on the whole program, visit: (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/idia-i-dance-hence-i-am-2019-tickets-64541376996)
I asked Chennai-based Navia Natarajan who will perform in the evening, when it was that she first knew she wanted to dance; what was it that drew her in. She said, “Joy. That is what I remember about watching my first performance – and all others since, actually – the joy. How much the dancer enjoyed the dance. I always want to get into that space.” Indeed, her goal for her solo debut/ arangetram in her teens was not, perfect technique and not forgetting a step; but rather, to get to a point where she could feel the joy.
We get to experience her joy in a piece that was an exploratory journey for her mentor the revered Bragha Bessel too. Turns out, Bessel had been on the lookout for a specific piece Pichaiku vandiro, a lovingly derisive piece on Lord Shiva, and was in the process of choreographing it. “I got to see Bragha-akka chiseling the piece; I got to, sort of, be a part of her process, watch her develop it for the the first time.”
That piece is in contrast to the varnam/ main item Natarajan will present, where she has interpreted Swami ninne kori nanura through the emotions of a maturing nayika. As a child, she’s enthralled by Lord Shiva, graduating to a crush; then an all-pervading love to finally, an acceptance of the supreme and steadfast one-ness.
Bangalore-based Praveen Kumar will anchor the second evening presentation. For him too, dance was related to happiness. “I was working with a Chartered Accountant, shuttling between work & dance (watching and performing)…There comes a time for everyone, when you decide how to proceed with life & for me it was Dance.” Kumar chose dance also, to stay connected with people in all walks of life. According to him, dance is a representation of Life and it helps him evolve every day.
This reflective side of him will be presented to us in Maate malayadwaja, speaking of the Goddess protecting not only the outer world but also the inner world. Kumar likens it to the realities of living in current times, “every human being is constantly trying to keep up with the pace with the outer world & their homes (inner world). [Only] when there is a balance in both places, can one find serenity within oneself.”
Kumar portrays male characters every chance he gets, he believes them to be a vehicle for personal as well artistic exploration. It will be interesting to watch his javali, will his Krishna succeed in wooing back a sulking lover?
The nuances of expression are what drew Shweta Prachande, acclaimed artist-Priyadarshini Govind’s student, to the art-form. She says, “The way someone smiles, the way they turn their head, the way they say NO, the way they laugh, the way they express anger, all of these, when presented through expression/abhinaya help create a character.” We can look forward to her presentation of a strong willed and feisty woman through a Padam.
Like Kumar, Prachande too, sees dance as an interplay with life. According to her, “…the outside world is changing so quickly and society is perpetually in a state of flux…dance helps me look deeper to find a balance, to be resilient, to be more compassionate.” This centeredness, is what she brings to her performances, even when rapid footwork and precision technique are called for, such as in the Mishra Chapu Alaripu she will present on August 25th.
IDIA will present another male artist, Chennai-resident Christopher Guruswamy, who literally learnt BharataNatyam from the womb: His mother danced through her pregnancy and would take him to class after he was born. His awakening to the fact that he couldn’t possibly be anything but a BharataNatyam dancer came after he’d applied to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (Gurusamy grew up in Australia) to learn ballet. In an interview, he’s said, “It was in this audition while doing ballet bare work that I realized how much I really hated ballet, loved BharataNatyam and wanted to go to Kalakshetra. So, I asked the panel to not accept me into the course which would let me go to India and study (something I only told my mum YEARS later).”
Gurusamy will present what he calls a happy varnam. “Many people consider Manavi to be a simple piece, but to me, it represents innocent, pure, stupid love. I see the nayika as this confident young girl…she could be Miss India, you know?…she just doesn’t understand why the Lord will not respond, there is after all, no reason for him to be so angry.”
Anwesha Das is the on-shore artist at IDIA. A Seattle resident, Anwesha’s dance journey began when her family lived in Chennai when she was a child, it so happened, close to the famed Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s classes. She remembers being enthralled by Sathyanarayanan’s Panchali Shapatham then.
Angayyar Kanni is the varnam through which Das hopes to bring out the beauty of Bharatanatyam, saying, “I enjoy presenting this piece because it portrays the nine emotions or Navarasas. I am in awe of the musicality & lyrics, as they give me ample scope to delineate small episodes of Devi in her different forms – Angayarkanni, Mahakali, Dakshashayani, Umai and so on.”
In Aduvvum Solluval, Das will portray a heroine animatedly talking about the rags to riches story of her rival while also dismissing her rival’s taunts.
Natarajan, Kumar, Prachande, Gurusamy, and Das, each will allow us to coinhabit a joyous, connected space along with them. This feeling of community was what IDIA co-founders Kavita Thirumalai and Ganesh Vasudeva are striving to achieve. In a facebook post, Vasudeva says, “We have a dream/vision where Bay Area is one of the best centers for Bharatanatyam. We want Bay Area to produce our own Mythili Prakash. Not just one, but many. We want SF Bay Area to be inspired by quality and strive to attain that quality. We want dancers, and dance students to think critically and produce works that in turn makes audience think.”
Thirumalai is emphatic about the experience: “The mission of IDIA is to spark an immersive environment for aspiring artists, students, and lovers of BharataNatyam. IDIA was our way of creating vibrancy and currency to an otherwise rushed experience of learning and watching this beautiful art-form. IDIA is a whole day of immersion into the why, how, and what of BharataNatyam.”
More info: https://www.facebook.com/IDANCEhenceIAM/