Joy, tranquillity, release and a deeper connection with their religion, together with the need for hard work and determination – these are themes that emerge from the answers six young bharatanatyam dancers gave to Seetal Kaur’s questions.
ast November, six dancers who are passionate about bharatanatyam were given the chance to intensify their training and showcase their talents at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. After gaining a competitive funding award from the Arts Council England, Nupur Arts Dance Academy launched into a professional development project that pushed the potential of their most senior dance students. Each of them had performed extensively within the community but this was a chance to learn unique choreography and new techniques from established artists such as Pushkala Gopal, Bhagya Lakshmi Thyagarajan and Aakash Odedra. Dancer and director of dance company Beeja, Anusha Subramanyam supported the project throughout its various stages and also gave an emotive performance of abhinaya on the evening at the Curve. Now, the dancers reflect on the project and what role their art form has and will play in their lives in the future.
SS: Shree Savani / ES: Eesha Savani
AV: Alisha Vaghela / NJ: Nidhi Joshi
RJ: Riddhi Joshi / SV: Shreya Vadnerkar
Name four things that you’re most passionate about.
SS: Dance, living life to the fullest, making memories with loved ones, education.
ES: The Indian culture and its traditions, celebrating different types of festivals, learning new things every day and, finally, dance!
AV: Learning new dance techniques, meeting guest artists, broadening my dance vocabulary, mixing dance styles.
NJ: Dance, meeting new people and being able to learn about their different cultures, and travelling.
RJ: Dance, learning different languages, music.
SV: Dancing, drama, psychology and baking.
What role does dance play in your life?
SS: Dance is my life. It has been since the age of 2 and a half! It keeps me sane by letting me express myself through powerful movement. Dance is my social life; I’ve made lifelong friends, who are more like family: they say ‘friends who dance together stay together.’
ES: Dance has played a huge part in my life. I have been dancing regularly since the age of 4 and it has become a great way to socialise, a good break from studying and has increased my confidence. But most importantly, the joyous feeling that I get when I dance is like no other.
AV: Dance allows me to express how I feel while being able to release the stress of daily life. Without dance I would simply not be myself.
NJ: Dance plays a huge role in my life! I have been dancing for as long as I remember and my connection and bond with dance has grown deeper and stronger throughout the years. I currently teach dance at Nupur Arts as well as learning bharatanatyam there. Across the range of different dance styles I have learned, each has given me much more than just the skill of dance: from stamina, discipline and music knowledge to patience, communication and teamwork.
RJ: Dance plays a very important role in my life. While I enjoyed dancing when I was young, I never thought it would become such a big part of my life. I now teach dance at Nupur Arts and learn here too. Bharatanatyam has taught me much more than the dance itself: patience, perseverance, devotion, dedication and much more.
SV: A huge role. I am constantly dancing and constantly doing dance-related work for Nupur Arts; e.g. mixing music and helping out with the admin side. This has helped to develop my fitness, confidence and time-management skills.
What will you take away from the Nartan experience this year?
SS: As always, hard work really pays off. Each positive comment received personally or as a group boosts passion and determination to continue to provide spectacular performances for our audiences.
ES: I am grateful for the opportunity to work with renowned dancers and choreographers. Working with each one was very different and we had to have slightly different approaches to each dance, but this helped to open our minds a little. I also enjoyed performing at the Curve Theatre again and the fact that the audience was smaller made the performance more intimate and exciting.
AV: This showcase of dance has not only challenged me as a dancer but has also enabled me to learn a unique style of dance from one of my inspirations, Aakash Odedra.
NJ: Nartan was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever been through! As a team, we went through months and months of hard work and intensive sessions. I walked away feeling a sense of completion and great achievement! I feel I have greater understanding of bharatanatyam now and stepping out of my comfort zone to train under Aakash Odedra has made me believe that anything is possible when you change your way of thinking.
RJ: A feeling of accomplishment as we concluded the show. It was a challenge for me to be able to build the stamina to dance through Nartan. I have grown, not only in my understanding of bharatanatyam through the training with Pushkala Gopal but also in my imagination during the training with Aakash Odedra. I believe that I have progressed deeper and wider in the dance field and look forward to more dancing and training like this in the future.
SV: The feedback from the audience has helped me improve as a dancer and I’ve learned time management and commitment. Working with a prestigious theatre like the Curve and training with professional artists like Aakash Odedra and Pushkala Gopal was incredible too.
Why do you enjoy performing bharatanatyam dance?
SS: Bharatanatyam is an extremely disciplined dance style with very expressive aspects, and I feel privileged to have the chance to carry on this historical classical dance style and feel proud to be a bharatanatyam dancer, especially in this country. I’ve also learned a lot about my religion through bharatanatyam.
ES: I love the variety of pieces that we can perform. For example, in Nartan we were able to perform an expressive padam as well as a thillana, which is more technical.
AV: Bharatanatyam is very traditional and allows me to connect to my religion by portraying ancient stories through dances.
NJ: One of the reasons I enjoy performing bharatanatyam is because it gives me a great sense of tranquillity when I am on stage dancing to songs of praise about the Hindu Devas. I also feel as if bharatanatyam allows me to clearly see my progression in the dance form, in turn motivating me to carry on and do even better.
RJ: I feel I am keeping a tradition alive and spreading the art form outside India. Performing bharatanatyam makes me feel a sense of joy and achievement when I dance and it gives me peace.
SV: The fact that it’s so pure and different from any other style I perform. It’s the most challenging dance style, which I love. It continues to push me to be a stronger dancer. I love to see the audience’s reaction to the dances, especially the expressional pieces.
What relationship do you see yourself having with dance in the future?
SS: I don’t ever see myself stopping dancing. Ever.
ES: Although I don’t see myself following a career in dance, I think that I will continue to dance in one way or another. For example, I am at university now but I still try to be involved in Nupur Arts classes and shows and I have joined dance societies at university as well.
AV: I can see dance having a place in my future and not just as a hobby. I would like to teach young aspiring dancers and share the knowledge I have gathered from the large range of dance teachers and professional dancers who have taught me and inspired me from a young age.
NJ: I would like to think that my relationship with dance is everlasting and I would be willing to do anything to make sure that happens! I wish to continue to spread the dance form and keep the roots of Indian history alive through performing and teaching and, wherever possible, using it to help others to lead a healthy lifestyle.
RJ: Very close. I can spread the form and increase its contact with more people who can keep it alive for longer. I can also help people with communication or movement difficulties to use dance to stay active. I hope to have a lifelong relationship in which it makes me feel joyous and I make it widely recognised, accessible and enjoyed.
SV: Maybe going into dance as a career but if not, then definitely doing it, for example, as a part-time teacher or performer. Potentially even linking dance to a career in psychology, which really interests me.
Do you have a dance role model? If so, who inspires you and why?
SS: I think all dancers are inspirational in different ways. I especially take inspiration from my gurus, who have greatly influenced my dance journey.
ES: I don’t have any particular role model in dance. I am inspired by many dancers including my teachers, but also dancers whose shows I go to watch.
AV: None in particular.
NJ: My first inspiration from childhood was Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit. I have always tried to learn from the way she carries herself while dancing. In bharatanatyam, I am very inspired by Priyadarshini Govind – her charisma on stage and clarity of movement inspire me to push myself!
RJ: The first person that ever inspired me and confirmed my continuation in dance is Priyadarshini Govind. I watched her perform and had the opportunity to learn from her. Her abhinaya and expressions mesmerise me. I also look up to Professor C.V. Chandrashekhar who gives me the energy to dance. I think if he can dance like that at his age, I have no excuse.
SV: Smita Vadnerkar [the Artistic Director of Nupur Arts], as she has accomplished so much. After years of hard work she has turned her passion into a business. It just proves that anything is possible with hard work and determination. Also my dance teachers and gurus really inspire and motivate me too.