Temple dance scholar from Ukraine and Bharatanatyam dancer, Ganna Smirnova, talks about what draws her to the forms
Magnificent style, confidence, stunning execution, devotion and love for Indian dance are embedded in Bharatanatyam dancer-scholar Ganna Smirnova from Keiv, Ukraine. A laureate with many distinguished honours, her efforts to familiarise Indian Classical dance in fellow Ukrainians through her Indian Theatre, Nakshatra — the first Oriental dance group being awarded the National Ensemble category, has been in the tradition of the guru-shishya parampara. Trained under Jayalakshmi Eshwar in New Delhi, her mesmerising abhinaya of Meera bhajan transcends barriers of language and culture. A frequent performer in India, the research scholar at the T.G. Shevchenko National University, Kiev, has just published a book, “Indian Temple Dance Tradition, Philosophy and Legends” in Russian. Here, she talks about her love for Bharatanatyam, particularly temple dance. Excerpts:
Why did you learn Indian dance, particularly Bharatanatyam? Any difficulties?
I was brought up in the former Soviet Union environment where the classical performing arts were encouraged from childhood. Each locality and school was attached to different cultural institutes (called Palace of Cultures in those times) and most of us cultivated a taste for classical arts besides many excelling in them. Mainly, it was the societal base and facilities that gave almost everyone a chance to appreciate the performing arts in a very involved way.
During my university days, the Year of India in Soviet Union was organised and it was at that time I had the first hand rasanubhuti of Indian Classical dances. I was mesmerised by the depth of the emotions, the complexity of the technique and movement patterns of Bharatanatyam, the storyline and the happiness on the dancers’ face.
I was offered an ICCR scholarship by Indian Embassy in 1996 for the first time but could not manage to leave my parents alone. After a gap of two years, I accepted it to take a new chart of my life entirely afresh without any expectation from the future but totally surrendered by the soul to this art called Bharatanatyam.. The ICCR scholarship was the only source of sustenance and even calling my parents sometimes was very difficult as the modes of communication were not so comfortable some 10 years ago. It was difficult to keep oneself going but the passion for Indian dance helped me surmount the challenges successfully.
You are a qualified lawyer, why didn’t you take it up professionally? Why have you chosen temple dance ?
As a student, I was attracted by cultures of ancient and great civilisation. I felt sorry that the legacy left behind was only broken stones or rich pieces of mythological stories and poetry. While reading the Sapphos hymn to Aphrodite one can perceive so much love and devotion in it! (I can say even bhakti) I was terribly missing that feeling in the life of modern society. Then, I surprisingly found something similar to that in the temple tradition and the role of devadasis in temple worship in South India. I found something from the ancient world which survived in specific form in India. I also saw many common things in the structure of South Indian temples and rituals with those of Babylonian and Mediterranean ones.
I wanted to learn and practise Indian Classical dance to have an experience of dancing in the temple and my desire was fulfilled. I danced in Chidambaram, Kumbhakonam and Thanjavur temples. My training in Carnatic vocal for a couple of years while in India, has given me space inside to enjoy the rhythm while performing the numbers.
Talk of the metaphysics in the Indian temple dances.
Indian Classical dances can’t be completely called temple dances. This form absorbed partly traditions of temple dances as well as court dances even if the techniques are the same but this is visible in the dance repertoire. Dance repertoire related to the temple culture is based on mythological stories and expresses emotion of bhakti. Metaphysics of this dance in my opinion is the understanding that the divine forces are existing and in the process of dancing you can not only communicate with them but also feel them inside you (your body) — feel the transformation of energy and consciousness, as a result.
What is the scope of Indian dance in Ukraine?
We love dancing and Ukraine has been in love with India and its great culture. Indian dance is no exception and a major role has been played by the Indian films over the years. There is a long tradition from the ’90s to organise an annual dance festival in Ukraine. When we organised the international festival of Indian Classical dances, Nrityaanjali, few years back, I made it a point to invite everyone who practised Indian dance in Ukraine (25 groups) and get exposure to the professionals and gurus, perform in front of them and in the evening watch these professionals perform. This is my ninth year of teaching dance in Kiev. In my dance theatre Nakshatra, there are students from cross section of society.