Friday, December 7, 2012

The meditative quality of dance and music...and bubble wrap

The post above describes the frustration of waiting - and how to keep ourselves occupied, thus reducing said frustration - with something as simple as popping a bubble.

Tablet and phone applications work in this exact manner. What is so fascinating about slicing fruit that it can hold us for a 45 minute subway ride?

The answer: absolutely nothing. We just prefer having something to do than not.

Which brings me back to dance, music and meditation. Shouldn't we be able to manage a 5 minute wait  for a bus without wanting to scream? I find that I can happily sit on an hour long bus ride, daydreaming or thinking about the actions of my day or my plans for the future. And I am quite sure that my dance training is why I am able to do this (coupled along with a highly active Roald Dahl-esque imagination, except my flying peaches are filled with taans and alaps and have clouds that can be used as dance floors).

The power of focus for the practitioner is truly where the power of art lies. Both from the standpoint of the viewer: can the art take you to a place where you don't feel like you are waiting for the end of the performance? Where it centers your focus, draws you in, and holds you in a meditative state of mind? And from the standpoint of the artist: can you focus during your practice on the one step that needs to be repeated over and over for 30 minutes. Can you focus during the song itself so deeply that you are truly present in the moment?

I suppose you can argue that bubble wrap is a focus, a simple, repetitive motion that allows you to be both the artist and the viewer. However, I think we can agree that most of us feel like we've gotten a hell of a lot more out of the meditative quality of an intense show than from chucking angry birds at some poorly piled up wood.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

To fade away...a 95 year old dancer

One can only hope that at 95 you can still teach, dance, and touch people's souls! I hope to fade away just as she says...still working hard, enjoying life, and devoting time to teaching:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Inspiring bharatanatyam and a new direction

I've often complained about how I find the choreography for many bharatanatyam works uninspiring. This may be because it's my forte, so I've watched a lot and thus relatively am more impressed by kuchipudi works I see or odissi works I see than bharatnatyam.

But, there were two works I recently came across and just loved.

This one, the choreography is just...really well executed and so pleasing aesthetically. The movements really push traditional ideas of bharatanatyam adavus in a very traditionally-themed bhakti driven piece like the Dashavatara.

Another one is Dakshina Vaidyanathan's choreography. I love the new movements and the theme - nakshatras - so different and more relatable for the everyday person! It seems many of the movements are given their form by a low, almost kalaripayattu like stance. It's weight shifting from posture to posture reminds me of the feeling and visual elements that kalari offers.

But the more I watch, the more I feel so much of it is inspired by Nrityagram. The way half of the group will do a movement in the opposite direction of the other half, then suddenly flow together, then the body movements remaining the same but the hand movements differing for a different layered texture of movement.

Or maybe it is inspired by what inspired Nrityagram - a collective movement that new choreographers are offering viewers.

Whatever the case may be, I feel it only bodes well for the field of classical dance!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thoughts on the Nandikesvara Abhinayadarpanam by Manmohan Ghosh

My first thought: Is the abhinaya darpana only this long?

My second thought: wow, there are a lot of typos (ie, in the pataka hasta viniyoga, there is one translation that says “might” instead of “night”).

My third thought: Manmohan Ghosh has a clear bias towards thinking that Indian classical dance is truly 2,000 some odd years old and his introduction reflects that. But can’t see how the actual translation reflects that since it’s prescriptive/descriptive.

My fourth thought: This is amazing. But, why are there some seemingly arbitrary (though I’d like to research why) paragraphs – ie, “women with white specks in their eyeballs” are disqualified from practicing the art, and why in the stances there is no tiger walk, but there is a lion walk…

Interestingly enough, Ghosh comments that the Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana do NOT always line up, even in simple things like how many hastas there are. This is just a general statement to be probed further, but I believe that the comparisons of these two texts hold a key to understanding the further development and evolution of dance forms in India.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nrityagram: A globalized dance form

If it is not clear yet, I consider myself to be a dancer, with a forte in bharatanatyam. It is how I communicate; it is how I live; it is how I breathe. I am in many senses nothing without it.

And as an Indian classical dancer, where mentors/gurus are your source to continual improvement, and myself with no official teacher training me at the moment, it has been difficult. For six years I have floundered looking for someone  - sometimes, anyone - who would want to take on a dancer who wanted intensive training. Sadly, I came up short. Until I took Nrityagram’s month long summer workshop.

It is an incredible experience to find a teacher at this age who is actually interested in developing professional level students whether they are trained or untrained in the style. Most teachers in the Indian classical dance field will write you off if you haven’t been with them for years and years, and several more will show favoritism to the talented. Not so at Nrityagram, where the philosophy emphasizes dedication and passion leading a student towards carefully guided professional development.

Best of all is that the dance company remains firmly routed in the traditions of Indian classical dance, while creating constant evolution within the form.  The result is an ever-developing globalized art form. Though Nrityagram once had, and perhaps will again, house other styles of dance, as of right now many of us associate them with a deep commitment to the odissi form and ethos.  But the style here does not quite emphasize preservation or even simply working with only the vocabulary that has been passed down to them…it is one that has absorbed the techniques, stability, and graces of many other genres of dance while adapting it to the art form. Never before have I seen so many influences from dance around the world yet found it to remain firmly entrenched within the curvaceous feel of odissi. And to me, this is what makes Nrityagram so inspiring. They keep pushing the form forward.

At Nrityagram’s village, which is like a mini-college complete with dorms and several areas to practice, is a quiet air of constant learning, absorbing, and imbibing, even amongst the teachers. It is a place that makes almost everyone who comes want to quit everything and stay here, even with the lizards that hide behind your mirror and after you’ve killed your twentieth cockroach in the bathroom. And this is not because the style of dance, or the incredibly beautiful dancers, (though these are a product of the atmosphere) but because of the inspiration and knowledge that the teachers impart. After learning at Nrityagram, it’s difficult to imagine learning from anyone else or any other way.  It’s an experience you hope you can consistently come back to, magnificent in its simplicity, humbling, and utterly enthralling.

I wish, in some senses, I had found Nrityagram 5 years ago, when I had first embarked on my permanent journey into the dance field. I would have happily tried out for their residential program then, and with a little luck may now consider odissi to be my forte rather than bharatanatyam.

In other senses, it was the perfect timing for me. It is a time when I feel I can truly appreciate and apply the perspective and criticisms of accomplished artists such as Bijayini Satpathy/Surupa Sen/Pavithra Reddy, without tons of ego (at least in relation to 5 years back), and with some of the carefully developed awareness of the body that I didn’t have when I was 21 – and took being a little lost as a dancer – to find.

And just like learning, there is no conclusion here, only hope that I can continue onwards and upwards.