Archives for category: Dance

 

12th October 2019,

Tamilnadu, India

I’ve been reading Shakuntalam | अभिज्ञानशाकुन्तलम् | Abhijñānaśākuntalam, an inspiring Classical Sanskrit play by the 4th century Poet, Playwright Kalidasa. This morning as we cared for the Lilies in our pond, the dance lesson with my student too, was inspired by the wide green leaves of the Lilies. In Shakuntalam, Anusuya & Priyamvada, two endearing friends of the main heroine, use Lotus leaves as hand fans, to help calm the nerves of a lovelorn Shakuntala. They also suggest to her to inscribe a love letter to her Beloved on the lotus leaf with her beautiful nails …

 🎵 Lalitha Lavanga | Album- The Blue Divine | Sikkil Gurucharan & Anil Srinivasan

The Festival of Navaratri

The October heat in the afternoons is on the rise. The village woman grinds freshly plucked henna leaves from the garden into a smooth paste. I am full of curiosity & wonder, as she takes my hands into hers. She lovingly envelops the tips of my fingers, and my toes with the thick green paste of henna. Its perfect consistency is achieved by adding to it the juice of a few lemons from her garden. She is gifted at weaving conversations. She keeps me patiently engaged with colourful folklores around henna, and it’s magical benefits upon the well-being of a woman. I receive her love. I receive her joy. I receive her blessing.

To allow the henna to reveal its gifts, I am forced to halt all activity. Unable to dance, or to read, or to paint, or to listen to music, I surrender to laying down upon the floor beneath me. She directs me to rest at a spot on the floor where a wonderful breeze blows directly upon me, speeding the drying up of the henna paste. Unable to move, I recollect and hum to myself beautiful padams – dance compositions. It is a joy to sing aloud to the vast spaciousness around me. I have forgotten the pleasure of leisurely laying on the ground, just staring aimlessly at the ceiling. A childlike playful excitement bubbles through my body. I can sense the light orange of the henna darken into a deeper red, with the slow passage of time. The aroma is giddying and delightful. A few hours later, the leaves dry upon my skin. She helps take it all off with a wide & content smile. The darkened orangish-red colour is to her satisfaction. Her joy is contagious. I am overflowing with love and deep gratitude for our sisterhood. I am waiting for dawn to dance in celebration of the joy that henna awakens in me.

Wishing all of you a blessed, joyful and nurturing Navaratri in celebration of the Mother Nature and all Her beautiful forms. 🙏🏽

A few weeks back, an endearing young woman, expressed her desire to learn Indian classical dance from me. Her strong desire and my openness to step into sharing what I know, aligned right away. “Yes. Let us begin this evening”, I said. She lit up with excitement. I sensed a familiar unfounded joy ignite between both of us. We parted momentarily to get ourselves ready for the evening lesson. Every ticking second, unfurled a storm of butterflies in my stomach. By and by, the heat of the afternoon sun softened. As the slanting rays of twilight fell upon the sacred altar, we joined our hands in prayer. Paying homage to all the divine forces, we touched the earth upon which we stood with folded hands, and took Her blessings. The two of us stood face to face. In full faith, we opened ourselves up to give and to receive the dance of life, through our body and breath.

The next day, she brought another young woman along, whose burning desire to dance Bharatanatyam was keenly palpable. I heard a whisper say, “More the merrier.” So now, we were a circle of three. Every day, at an opportune moment, we practiced the classical dance form. I led the instructions. Often, I too danced with them. We were like three tribal women, meeting at a communal dance circle. Our dancing had a raw beauty, joy, and spontaneity to it. The body began to awaken to the power of its life force. Our five senses grew attentive. The tensed tight limbs began to welcome the muscle pain. The resilience, the determination, the staying power to transcend this pain began to grow.

I let go of all previous impressions. I let go of all judgment. I let go of the how, why and when. I allowed the not-knowing. I allowed an unlearning. I allowed faltering. I allowed playfulness. I allowed the joy and fun of dance to take centre stage. Together, we began to remember. I heard words of wisdom resounding in the air around us, ‘All learning is a remembering.’ We reawakened to that which is alive in the memory of each cell, vein, artery, and heartbeat inside our physical body. The thrill of rhythm, and the calm inside stillness, slowly unveiled before us.

We began to purge blocked energies. Streams of energy began to move in and out of our pores. Sweat streams cooled off our heated bodies. As if bathed in the cooling drops of the first rain, our racing heartbeat began to recognise its innate rhythm. The staying power began to grow stronger. Devoid of external mirrors, we began to know our body and its classical proportions from the inside. The inner eye began to reflect back the body’s own sacred geometry. We moved inside out into the horizontals, the verticals, the diagonals, and touched the circumference of our inner/outer circles. We began to sense the density of space. We began to move through the vacuum and the void. We began to extend ourselves into infinity. We began to taste the peace, the calm and the balance, when seated upon the golden throne of our body’s sacred mandala. Our spine elongated. Our shoulders rolled back. The legs bent into a square. Our pelvic bone opened to receive the downpour of energy. The vertical shaft of light began to break an inner cocoon. The butterfly began to birth out of the chrysalis. The women circle began to facilitate their rebirth. Together, they allowed the mad and divine to enter. They began to remember what they already know.

 

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Each one of us is a unique flower blooming to embrace eternity. Each one unfurls her own fragrance. Each one of us is complete in her form. Together, we allow our full blossoming, unhindered, unafraid. When the night falls, our bodies spread restfully like the wide green leaves of a lotus, and lay afloat meditatively upon clear waters. Our roots grow deep into muddy waters. Our stems extend far and wide. When the light, the temperature, and the sensory perceptions align, we bloom open like beautiful, vibrant lotuses. Some bloom at night to the coolness of the silvery moon (कुमुदिनी – Kumudini). Some bloom to the warmth of the morning sun (पंकजम – Pankajam). We are Kumudinis dancing in celebration of the kiss by the Silvery Moon. We are Pankajams in celebration of the life force streaming into us from the Golden Sun.

So it is.

तथास्तु – Tathasthu.

{Please note: The Sanskrit word ‘तथास्तु -Tathasthu’, has been translated by most scholars as, ‘So be it’. I would like to acknowledge that on the morning I penned this post, I received a letter from my dearest friend, Hema A Bharadwaj. It was Hema, who helped me see, that the actual translation of ‘Tathasthu’ aught to be, ‘SO IT IS’. Her lucid insight opened a spaciousness inside of me, & directly influenced the title of this post. I am deeply grateful for our friendship, which has been a healing & transformative force throughout my life. Our sacred friendship has also been the driving force behind, Artisdates.com, this common blog between Hema, Kaarthikeyan & myself, since May 2012. }

​​​The gentle weave of his sweet, whistling breath, scribbles, darting feverish, love poems upon her still waters, in an eternal embrace …

 

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Courtesy: Daksha Sheth Dance Company

30th November, 2014

It was an evening of flamboyance & theatre, with women twirling, swirling and celebrating their femininity in vibrant TAANBAAN, handspun organic cotton and silk sari collection, revived by Rta Kapur Chisti. The lobby of the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre foyer, at NCPA, Mumbai, was buzzing with childlike wonder and excitement, as women magnetised towards ten sensuously draped women. This was a last minute inspiration for Rta. I was one of the ten women, invited to wear any of her beautiful handspun saris, in the drape that inspired me from the previous morning’s Sari workshop. Most women were draped with the help of the swift and gifted hands of Pallavi Verma, the beautiful and dainty assistant of Rta Kapur Chisti. I draped myself in the Odissi-dance style for which I chose a vermillion, sindhoori-red, handspun Khadi sari strewn with brilliant golden lines of varying width. This festive loom once was an exclusive bridal sari for the rural women of Jharkhand. After the gasps and sighs of the crowds marvelling at our drapes and saris settled down, we were led into the beautiful theatre to attend the evening’s dance recital.

What unfolded before my eyes, will remain forever etched in my heart as one of the most extraordinary dance productions, I’ve attended in my lifetime. The sensitivity of the live music at the hands of ten gifted musicians; The simplicity and starkness of the ivory hued cotton saris & dhotis chosen for costumes; The ten skilled, agile, sensuous dancers; The play of light, and the refined sound design; All of it left me with a fragrance that still lingers in my being like an aroma from an ethereal mystical world…

{‘SARI, The Unstitched’, a production by the Daksha Sheth Dance Company:

Sari initiated by Rta Kapur Chisti, co-author and editor of Saris -Tradition and Beyond’, is directed by Composer Devissaro and choreographed by Daksha Sheth. The show was conceived to re-kindle the lost playfulness and individuality of the Sari. Through the art of draping, a woman reveals her demeanour and her regional identity. This union of the Sari and the wearer exudes the sensuality of dance. The performance highlights the stages in the journey from cotton pod to a magnificent fabric, draped in a range of wearing styles.}

A RECITAL SPACE FOR THE CLASSICAL ARTS

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Hidden in the center of an ancient mystical banyan grove is a sacred Nrithya Mandappam. Arriving through the thicket of trees and vines, two ornate wooden pillars with jasmine and marigold flowers, flank the mandappam entrance. A sensuous sandalwood fragrance fills the air. The faint strum of the tanpura drops all in a state of trance. A light breeze weaves in and out of the room making the orange flames from the glowing oil lamps dance coyly. A deep violet blue hue radiates out of the Pooja room, on the opposite side of which seat the musicians in a dark crimson enclave. A pool of yellowish golden light awaits to celebrate the temple dancer. The rasikas witnessing this evenings recital are already seated in the deep red shadow opposite this glowing yellow light. A buzz of excitement enlivens the air. Veiled inside this healing greenery, everyone awaits prayerfully to be transported into the ethereal world of music, dance inside a meditative silence …

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Nestled Inside The Sliver of a Delicate Crescent Moon, classical dancer, Sujit Vaidya, a kindred spirit, victorious and triumphant like his name. He moves majestically, draped in peacock-hued silk with a playful dash of vibrant pink! Reminiscing his dance recital, on the eve of 10th January, 2015, a resonance of hushed tranquility rests within.

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With much inspiration and quietude…

 

 

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July 14, 2015

The passing of my dear teacher of classical dance, Smt Shyamala, leaves a large vacuum in my being. I met her for the first time two years ago, and it was love at first sight! Her curious, soft eyes and herd gentle, kind smile, melted all hard edges within. Before I found her, I had been learning with gifted teachers, yet a restlessness burned inside of me.

Then, on the 1st of January 2013, I entered Shyamala akka’s quaint little house with a brass plate laden with fruits, flowers, betel nut leaf, and was initiated as her student. The Pandanallur form of dance that I had devoted many years to, was considerably different in Akka’s manner of teaching. There was a palpable softness, grace, and fluidity that lured me in. Though her nature refrained from any impositions upon me, I soon realised that to truly bathe in the essence of her teachings, I had to muster the courage to begin from the beginning. And so my journey resumed from the first lesson of Tatta Adavus! Apart from being an exponent of dance in Smt T. Balasaraswati tradition, Akka had been a teacher of Botany for many years, an adept yoga practitioner under her fathers tutelage, as well as an ardent student of Vastu Shastra under Shri. Ganapathy Sthapathi. These varied backgrounds influenced and coloured her manner of teaching Bharatanatyam, greatly. She was the only daughter, born into a learned family of teachers, who had settled in Sri Lanka for many years. Akka’s father saw the gift of dance in his dear daughter, who was also equally brilliant academically and in sports! Akka was a volleyball champion in her school, a passionate athlete at heart. However, her father’s keen eye for refined art, brought Shyamala Akka along with her mother, to Chennai, at the tender age of thirteen, to continue her classical dance and music studies with Smt. T. Balasaraswati. It was a cultural shock for her to adjust to living in the demanding, disciplined routine from the young age of thirteen, in a new city, quite different culturally, while being away from her larger family and estates in Sri Lanka. But her love and trust in her father, allowed her to surrender to the many years of gruelling practice in this classical dance form, which was a non-refutable, expectation from any student of the doyen of Bharatanatyam, Smt Balasaraswati, loving addressed as Balamma. During this time, she stayed at the home of a Kathakali maestro from Kerala, and hence got exposed to the classical art forms of Mohiniattam as well as Kathakali. A bright student, she was gifted with the ability to shape-shift herself to any form of dance. Though her primary teacher, Balamma, was a strict disciplinarian, she had a keen eye for a genius in a child, and allowed the flowering of each students uniqueness, if another art form complemented the student. So Shyamala akka enjoyed a privileged relationship with her teacher, Balamma. For Akka, Balamma and her family became everything. She remained eternally grateful to every wakeful moment with Balamma and safeguarded each composition learnt under her with more vigilance and care, than any material comforts or worldly manner of wealth.

During my dance lessons with Shyamala Akka, there was not a single day which missed out on some anecdote or nostalgic story from her life with Balamma. Through Shyamala Akka, I, too experienced the grace of this refined classical tradition transform every cell and breath in my body. For the first time in my life, my hunger to look, search and thirst outside of me, disintegrated. I felt quenched and nourished. I could sense an inward and outward transformation metamorphosing my life. I felt my being grow expansive. Many life situations miraculously healed, and grew new, tender, shoots! I knew I had found my teacher. I danced with her morning and evenings, as much as the universe allowed. What I internalised with Shyamala Akka cannot be counted by the number of compositions I learnt under her guidance, or the number of public performances I gave since, or whether I may pass on her teachings to other students in the garb of a teacher of this classical art form. Shyamala Akka breathed life into my brokenness. Shyamala Akka role-modelled devotion, playfulness, and the joy of dance into me. I know not of my future as she reunites today, with our Mother Goddess. I find my tears flowing and ebbing like the tides. I feel her presence, I hear her voice, her laughter, her touch, and sense her blessings pouring out towards me, as I sit stunned inside an unfathomable, dark void.

I pray for you, my dearest Shyamala Akka, as you soar towards Gods light. I pray for your guidance, as I continue on my path as a classical dancer. I love you. My heart brims with gratitude for the gift of knowing you, and learning from you, in this lifetime.