More classical Indian dance

25 09 2009



One response

28 09 2009

Dance critic George Jackson on the dance form:

“So rich a feast is Bharata Natyam, the ancient form of dance from South India, that the wise chef serves it in discreet portions. Impulsive, it can probe space by bounding forward, yielding alternately to earth’s demands and skyward aspirations. Controlled, it can convey desire subtly, with fingers that articulate in whispers and glances that beckon and stab. Vulnerable, it opens the body frontally to the beholder. Demanding, its drumming footwork leaves no rhythmic doubts. In trying to describe such a cornucopia of movement there is the temptation to compare it to classical ballet.

“In both forms, the Indian and the Western, the body is turned out, although the un-turned 6th position (both feet forward) occurs with some frequency in Bharata Natyam. Ballet posture is normally stretched, pulled up and out, whereas in Bharata Natyam the standing dancer often seems about to sit down. Both forms indulge in angling the joints, but each has its own predilections for body parts. There’s more heel in India’s footwork, as there is in character ballet compared to classical, and the purposeful use of foot sounds is more constant than the light tapping, the taquete, that can be so exciting when it signals exceptional impatience in the pointe work of ballet. Much of Bharata Natyam’s bounty was in evidence during “Nataraja Vandanam”, the 20 minute suite which opened the program. No choreographer was listed, but presumably Mallika Sarabhai was the chef who apportioned serving sizes of the different courses suited to the digestion of an up-to-date audience of Westerners and India expatriates. ”

From an interview with Jesuit priest and bharatanatyam performer Saju George

An interesting tidbit: “Saju George belongs in a long tradition of dancing Jesuits, and it is one from which he takes encouragement. In Europe, French and German Jesuits staged baroque ballets with religious themes in the seventeenth century. It was even conventional wisdom among Parisians of the day that no one could pirouette as well as a Jesuit.”

And a possibly controversial answer:

“How does Saju George integrate a traditionally Hindu religious practice with a Catholic spirituality? His answer is that a Christian subjectivity transforms it. “You have to go through a rigorous training – physical and mental. The form of dance involves a commitment of the whole person, body and soul. Everything that is danced is in praise of God. God may be Shiva, or Krishna – or one of the other gods of the Hindu tradition. But the underlying spirituality is lifting one’s soul towards God. The dance lifts the soul. There is a sacredness and spirituality in it. It becomes a prayer. It’s like a Yoga, which takes years of commitment, and it has its own deep philosophy. As a Catholic I found that the dance may be in its traditional roots Hindu, but that it had the potential to express a Catholic commitment to Jesus through our own psalms; to make the spirit of the Bible alive in dance and movement. Expressing psalms through this form really captures me. Our hymns can be danced. We have choreographed biblical themes – and it is a different way of preaching and evangelising and sharing with others how the whole person can be involved in prayer and worship, through body-gestures, singing, acting.”

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