“There are things, some of them passing strange, that happen when you confront a work of art: unfolding of the heart; its expansion; its agitation; and, finally, vibration.” Dr B.N. Goswamy, The Spirit of Indian Painting.
Malavika Sarukkai, leading bharatanatyam dancer, curated the Natya Darshan Dance Symposium in Chennai in December 2014, which explored the concept of creativity. Here Malavika gives her personal responses to keeping her art alive and fresh.
Dance, when inhabited by ‘presence’, lives in the moment. Alignment of body and mind creates harmony, this ‘oneness’. When dance is thus internalised, a new alertness fills body and mind. Experiencing these moments in turn awakens the potential of dance and of self. With this, the field of creative possibilities opens wide.
Creativity is a word suffused with much meaning in my life. As long as I can remember, my mother would speak to me about creativity, even before I knew what it meant. Later on, through the years, we discussed the spirit behind it. What is it to live creatively? To think, to act, to dance, to be creative? Creativity comes into play with a supple mind. This focus on the creative mind made me particularly aware of the other end of the spectrum: mind space that is highly conditioned, where habit and repetition predominate.
Training in Indian classical dance requires unswerving discipline and adherence to grammar, aesthetics and core elements of style. Together with this it requires an imaginative mind to take leaps of creativity. It is too easy to slip into the comfort zone of the tried, tested and habitual. So my question is how does one continue to refresh practice? How does one continue to be inspired? Where does inspiration come from? How does one befriend dance to hear its inner rhythms? It is the creative spirit that empowers us to extend boundaries to look beyond the expected.
Lotuses Blossom ‒ the Creative Process, held in Chennai in December 2014, was the first Natya Darshan Dance Symposium I curated. The three-day symposium would be a forum where artists, art historians, rasikas (knowledgeable enthusiasts), dancers and art lovers could share their experiences and views about the creative process, to reflect on the dazzling array of imaginative ideas that come to life in performance.
I believe the Indian way of thinking celebrates plurality, an interconnectedness of the arts, cerebration, imagination, philosophy, discipline and freedom together with an extraordinary sense of aesthetics. Many of my dance choreographies have evolved from this premise. It is with this conviction that I opened up the discourse in Lotuses Blossom to include an illustrated talk by internationally-renowned art historian Dr B.N. Goswamy on Indian miniature painting; Vikram Sampath on the writing of his book, My Name Is Gauhar Jaan; and an illustrated talk by dancer/scholar/writer Lakshmi Vishwanathan on the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Tanjore. All artists were requested to weave a choreography around the poetic theme line Ulasita Vikasath Sarasijam, ‘The Lotus Blossoms’. We experienced an amazing spectrum of interpretations of the poetic line.
Other than concerts where the creative process was apparent in performance, I was keen for the audience to hear the narratives of the creative process from within, from dancers who have worked to reinvest the traditional repertoire, bringing a fresh holistic approach. In the field of classical dance, excess of mediocre efforts has become the norm rather than the exception. In this environment, the more serious attempts of artists concerned with deepening their understanding of the art form go by unheard in the cacophony of ‘novelty’.
Some moments of outstanding beauty and depth stood out: Aniruddha Knight as he demonstrated the sensuous conversation of song and gesture in the T. Balasaraswati school of dancing; Aditi Mangaldas as she took command of the stage with her intelligent, thought-provoking choreography Widening Circles, brilliantly lit by Govind Singh Yadav; Sheejith Nambiar in his intensely-choreographed solo; and Sadanam Balakrishnan who brought gravitas and mastery to the art form of kathakali.
Natya Darshan 2014 attracted unprecedented
participation from artists, next-generation dancers and dance enthusiasts. In between programmes, the foyer was abuzz with animated discussions over coffee and samosas. All this was heartening as it proved the point that the more serious art does indeed have a following; also, unless it is validated by those who are concerned, be it the organisers or the dance fraternity, it will lose ground to the more entertaining and sensational.
Keeping up the momentum of the previous year, the Natya Darshan Dance Symposium 2015 (18–20 December) is entitled Designing Space ‒ the Creative Process. The theme linking the evening concerts this year is ‘Jvala Vyapnoti Akasam’ (‘The Rising Light Fills Space’).
And with that is the hope that we create a space in Chennai during the season where all can share the joy of discovering connections in art, be inspired by it and celebrate the spirit of art which at its deeper level confirms our humanity.