Rhythm divine

The life of a dancer and the way she merges with her art is fascinating. Each dancer forges her unique link with the art. So many journeys, by Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, with Rajiv Chandran, weaves together her creative experiences and her impressions over the years. Excerpts:

The creative aspects of dance grow only when one is curious, ready to take risks, face criticism and questioning, and have tremendous self-discipline and clarity of what it is that one truly aspires for. Moving completely out of the traditional mode could be challenging for some; but to me the ultimate challenge is to be within the traditional vocabulary of the dance and to try and map new boundaries for oneself.
Today a female classical dancer is one of the most potent popular images of feminine empowerment in Indian culture. Where else do you find a woman celebrating her feminity with such unabashedness? In full control of space, both within and without, a leader of a team (of musicians), as a public performer who is the cynosure of many eyes, is both feminine and empowered without one having to forego the other. Be it rhythm or expression, classical dance shows female dancers as being the originators of their unique universe — an arena where they are without chains, except the frontiers of their own understanding.

The ideal critic is one who relishes the rasa-feel of the dance and offers criticism after being soaked in that rasa and is familiar with and inspired by the creative process.

Dance has perennial value. It best mirrors a nation’s uniqueness. It gives us an edge and a something extra that no one else has. It has a cultural value much beyond what can be measured by the boring instruments of the market-place. Wise policies that give dance its space and some resources — would be the best investments for the future. Mainstreaming dance needs creative inputs. East European countries have braved globalisation by strengthening their native culture through additional investments. Local food is patronised to give the American burger a tough fight. Entire television channels propagate their indigenous culture.

A star-performer and celebrity-artist amongst today’s generation of dancers, Geeta Chandran is a dance-bridge between the pristine classical style of Bharatanatyam and a more contemporary dance aesthetic. She is the founder-president of Natya Vriksha, an organisation that enshrines the best philosophies of Indian classical culture.
It is wise to remember that the language of Bharatanatyam is language of an earlier time, echoing the past. But the language needs to be refreshed by the creativity of its artists. Of course, the past needs to be assimilated and understood; the past must be harnessed to urge the future. Only then can the contemporary and the future emerge emboldened by the past

The audience of today also brings to Bharatanatyam their confusion — how do they perceive the art? Is it ritual, entertainment, performance or a heritage artifact ? Such confusion pressures the artists to continually justify their art form in today’s contexts. Bharatanatyam is seen as archaic and quaint. Not as a medium of communication that can convey beautiful and other images through its highly evolved language of expressions. This constant lack of organic legitimacy with its audience hampers the growth of the dance.
From a surreptitious caste-bound practice, it became a wondrous art form that rent its caste and regional definitions to capture an entire nation’s popular and artistic imagination. From being fragile ritualistic dance that had originated in the temples of South India, it became a vehicle for flagrant performance. From a secluded and sacred art, it became public. Its leap from temple lintel to proscenium stage became an object of celebration — and some abuse.