3 x 3: Movement Voices for a Bharatanatyam Dancer

3 x 3: Movement Voices for a Bharatanatyam Dancer

This dance project enables me to investigate movement by incorporating new techniques, style and interactivity by three choreographers from two different countries across the world. The result will comprise a program of three new dances on a shared theme, choreographed by three internationally respected artists: Professor C.V. Chandrasekhar, with whom I have worked previously; and two first-time collaborators, Hari Krishnan and Santosh Nair.

3×3 will focus on three dance movement vocabularies—classical and contemporary Bharatanatyam, and Chhau—and move me closer to the heart of what I do best as an artist: examining pure Indian dance movement  and expression as a soloist. The creative departure point for 3 x 3 will be the Hindu goddess Devi in three of her many incarnations: life-force of the universe, Devi; invisible warrior, Durga and fierce destroyer, Kali.

There are two main phases of 3 x 3: Movement Voices for a Bharatanatyam Dancer. During the first phase, I will study with the three choreographers as they each choreograph a new work with original music, on me. In the second, I will bring the choreographers together to observe my progress and rehearsals of their choreographies in an evaluative research period that will include open studio sessions and “informances.”

Music is the base for choreography, especially in Indian dance forms and for this particular project Praveen D. Rao, a renowned music composer from Bengaluru, India has been commissioned to compose music for each of the three choreographies. Each choreographer will interact with Mr. Rao about the needs and necessities of their piece.

During the second and third week of October 2012, all three choreographers will convene in Philadelphia and review the three dances at my studio. This evaluative and synergetic phase will permit further coaching and feedback. This unusual gathering will permit a cross-genre conversation about dance vocabularies, performance techniques, aesthetics and interpretation. We will evaluate movement sections individually and assess how they may best work together as a 60-minute solo program.

During this period, contemporary choreographer and BodyMindMovement practitioner Mark Taylor will serve as a consultant/observer, and participate—as an “informed outsider”—in the discussions on creative practice with the choreographers and myself.  Taylor has worked on numerous cross-genre choreographic collaborations, including Bharatanatyam. Additionally, he will write about the movement research process and bring fresh perspective to how the four artists see the work, both as discrete dances and as an integrated program. Taylor’s essay will provide an introduction to and differentiate the three movement forms from each other, and it will be used on my website and in program notes to help inform and contextualize audiences’ experience of the work.

This completed choreographic piece will be shown to the general public audience on the 19th of October at Painted Bride Arts Center at 7:00 P.M.

  • I worked with Mr. Hari Krishnan from the 23rd of May; I chose to work with Hari Krishnan to have him choreograph a contemporary Bharatanatyam piece on me. In creating this piece, he searched for different aspects of Devi that show the polarity of her nature. Some of these aspects include: Durga, Bhuvaneshwari, Kamakshi, Chinnamasta, Kalarathri, Gowri, Uma, Kali, and Kushmanda. In interpreting Bhuvaneshwari, for example, Krishnan the dancer as a metaphor for Bhuvaneshwari’s portrayal of a mother, a protector, and a nurturer. The choreography demonstrates these emotions, but as a departure from traditional Bharatanatyam, does so without using hand gestures; concentrating on the face and feet. Similarly, when depicting Kali, Goddess of time, Krishnan shows the evolution of time and how she conquers time. Time has neither beginning, nor end and so this choreography takes the dancer across the stage in many directions. She’s not dancing the rhythmic syllables of how its been composed instead she’s creating a cross rhythm with her footwork. The dancer is thus the controller of time. The polarity of Devi’s aspects is most evident in Kushmanda. Kushmanda is the sum total of Gowri and Durga – she holds the two skulls and dances around the galaxy, while the sun is gaining energy from her dance. The circular motions in this piece mimic the codependence and duality: the sun getting energy from Kushmanda and the planets getting energy from the sun. All through the choreography Hari kept the nuance of Contemporary approach to the choreography using the basic structures of Bharatanatyam. We worked till the 30th of May 2012 for 40 hours during my visit.
  • Between July 23-August 3, 2012, I travelled to Chennai, India to create the choreography in classical Bharatanatyam dance style with Professor C.V. Chandrasekhar. Having worked with Professor C. V. Chandrasekhar on traditional Bharatanatyam previously, we were able to get right into the new choreography. Chandrasekhar always says an artist can innovate and build on the foundation, if the foundation is strong. The intention throughout the choreography was to create a piece that was creative and fresh. We have both been talking about the three aspects of Goddess and agreed on the fact that it needs to look and feel different both for me as dancer and also for the audience members. We were able to create new ideas by incorporating our individual perspectives. We tried to extend the traditional boundaries by using our imagination and by painting it differently, the result is completely innovative. The main departure from the ‘so called tradition’ is bringing new, contemporary approaches to the goddess and philosophy into the mainstream repertoire of Bharatanatyam. We both also believe that pure dance and facial expressions were the medium to narrate our stories about the three goddesses. Inevitably, all throughout the process Professor kept pushing me to see the kind of innovation that he was hoping to see in the piece without deviating from the aesthetic essence and value of the style. Values, customs and disciplines were maintained all through the creation and I am looking forward to perfecting them during my meeting with him here in Philadelphia in October.
  • My work in Chhau dance form of choreography took place between August 13-24 2012 in Delhi, India with Santosh Nair. In this piece, Santosh Nair and I approached the Hindu Goddess Devi by her six main functions using the choreographic styling of Mayurbhanj Chhau. We began with her most forceful and dynamic form and moving toward increasingly less potent forms. Originally a tribal dance that originated from the forests of Mayurbhanj in the 18th century, Chhau got the status of a martial art form in the 19th century. The blend of soft dance movements and harder martial forms lend itself well to our approach to the theme as Devi’s forms become more and more forceful. Santosh was very clear from the start with the type of Mayurbhanj Chhau he would use especially for this particular character (Devi) I also suggested Santosh use the soft and elongated movements, which are authentic to the dance style that otherwise I would not have tried in Bharatanatyam. Kalibhanga means the curled up end of soft twig. The suggestion that lies in this image is the lyrical grace of a green, tender plant shoot. That was the style Santosh approached for the first piece. Santosh was bit hesitant as this was the first time around he was working on a solo project with a Bharatanatyam dancer. He did ask me to try out some of his simple choreographies, which I was able to execute. Thus a beautiful Kalibhanga style choreography worked out for the Devi aspect of the choreography.