Aparna Sindhoor on how her dance vocabulary is inspired by the energies within and the happenings around the world
Her dance defies definition. It is about personal freedom. It is about intense physicality and an intimate aesthetic. It is about codified technique and developmental movements. It is about entering into a dialogue with the audience and the art.
“Though my heart still beats for Bharatanatyam, the soul of my choreography, my creative restlessness and curiosity have enabled me to learn, understand and integrate other forms of the performing arts and dance genres of the world,” says Aparna Sindhoor, the U.S.-based dancer and director of Navarasa Dance Theater.
With a dancer for a mother and a singer for a father, the unflinching enthusiasm to undergo rigid training in Bharatanatyam was in her genes. “Of the 20 years of learning, 15 years were with K. Venkatalakshamma, one of the foremost proponents of the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam. To study the form in its entirety, I chose to pursue it academically too,” says this University of Mysore gold medallist in dance. “It was an interesting experience,” she continues. “At the university, I was exposed to the Kalakshetra style, while under Venkatalakshamma I mastered the Mysore bani that has more rounded movements and gestures. The Mysore variant uses compositions in Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit.”
Marriage took Aparna to the U.S. where she initially spent time watching jazz shows, modern dance performances and participating in interactive and experimental art sessions at universities. Her growing sensibilities and expanding oeuvre manifested in dance productions such as The Incident and After, The Hunt, Draupadi, Encounter, A Story and A Song, Plantation Talas, Refugee Ragas and Peace by Peace Women Speak, that had universal appeal. She came up with her own technical, emotional and cultural grammar.
“My techie husband S.M. Raju, with his flair for writing and love for theatre, pitched in with narratives around which I wove mime, movement, mudras and music,” says the svelte dancer, who practises yoga and pranayama regularly.
The linking of dichotomous elements, the synthesis of emotions and styles in her dance, she says, emerges from her body itself. Through her choreography she wanted to make visible the energies and rhythm within. But Aparna did not move completely into undiscovered and alien territories. Tradition found fresh resonances in her contemporary works.
Averse to Eastern and Western categorisation, Aparna's cultural detours have established her connect with India's rich and diverse folk and martial arts. It also brought her in touch with many talented artistes and dancers, who gave a different dimension to her choreography. One such was Anil Natyaveda, co-director of Navarasa, who is a kalaripayattu expert and a trained classical dancer from Thiruvananthapuram. “I want to soon come back to my country, to my roots. I have realised through my performances here that the audiences are now open to genre-free presentations,” says Aparna.
It's not just her vocabulary that makes Aparna's dance contemporary, but themes too. Feminist and social issues spur her into action. River Rites, for instance, was about how big dams can displace indigenous people and focused on the role of tribal women in the struggle. “I have performed at prestigious venues across the globe but dancing in small villages, the bullock cart rides, the tasty food served lovingly by the locals, rehearsing by the Narmada … River Rites was truly a watershed moment!”