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.

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