Meryl Tankard found ballet restricting, till she discovered the joys of breaking its boundaries
Meryl Tankard is a dancer, choreographer and an independent documentary film maker from Australia. She is in Bangalore as part of Attakalari’s Indian Biennial 2013, which is pitted as South Asia’s largest contemporary dance and digital arts festival. Meryl is one of the mentors to the participating dancers and choreographers from across the world.
“I have been given a group of dancers, whose works I see and give them suggestions to improvise their moves.” “I used to do Indian classical hand gestures as a child. In fact my fascination for dance and movement was so much that friends and family insisted that I learn dance seriously. So I was sent to a school that taught classical ballet at the age of seven. I was in it till I was 23. It was good to perform ballet. But then there was this part of me that felt restricted. I could not be as creative as I wanted to be or express myself as I wanted to,” says Meryl, who began her career with the Australian Ballet in 1975.
A dancer’s vulnerability
“Though I had signed a new contract with a ballet company, during my travel in Europe, I met Pina Bausch, a well-known name in contemporary dance, and a ballet director. That was my dream come true. I asked her if I could dance with her and she had a special audition for me. It was strange because I was dancing and she looked the least bit interested in what I was doing. She was reading a paper, when I was auditioning! I continued and when I finished, she just said ‘You’re good I’ll take you.’ I almost jumped,” laughs Meryl as she recalls this incident.
“I returned to Australia, waited three months for my contract with the ballet company to be terminated, and then left for Germany,” adds Meryl, who went on to work with Pina for six years.
“Working with Pina was very different. She broke boundaries and brought in the vulnerability of a dancer to the stage. In ballet the dancer hides the weakness. But not in Pina’s work. She taught me to improvise and I could create my own character. This way a part of my life would be presented in an artistic way and it made the dancer and audience relate to one another,” she says.
“I was homesick and returned to Australia, but continued to go back often to work with Pina,” she recalls. Back home, Meryl started collaborating with other classical dancers – Padma Menon – a Kuchipudi dancer, is one of them. Then she got into making short films. “I studied filmmaking for a year. It’s a different medium. I loved the ability to take the audience into a smaller view of everything through the camera. It was a challenge, which I enjoyed.”
Meryl is also enjoying her role as a mentor at Attakalari and says: “It’s amazing that Jayachandran has organised this fest, where he has invited mentors from various parts of the world. It’s unusual. Indian dancers have a very strong base in classical dance, so they will not be able to throw away those deep roots. But what I see is that they tend to use it as a good base to build new movements and dance vocabulary, which is so beautiful.”