Bharatanatyam dancer Devayani on her ongoing tryst with dance.
“I am not sure if I chose Bharatanatyam or it chose me, but I am glad we found each other, it was like love at first sight,” says Devayani explaining her transition from a French national to an acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer.
Even though her French origins come through unmistakeably in her accented English, she says her only aim is to promote India’s ancient dance in its pristine form, “In my performance, I try to preserve and project the pure glory and beauty of this ancient dance.” Her desire is to see Bharatanatyam reach every corner of the globe. “I want people to admire it as the most powerful dance with an ancient tradition and a spiritual grandeur.”
Devayani, accorded with the Padma Shri for her contribution to the dance form, has been living in Delhi for over two decades and describes her journey as “more exciting than my wildest dreams.”
Born and educated in Paris in a cultural environment, poetry, dance drama and philosophy were her first love. Earlier trained in Western Ballet, Flamenco and Modern Dance, Devayani says she was in search of ‘a complete art form’ and in 1973 saw a sequence of Bharatanatyam in a film shot in Kalakshetra, Chennai. “It was a complete revelation. The footwork, the expression, everything was perfect.”
A pure form
In Chandigarh for a dance recital at the Craft Festival, Devayani shares her views on the old and contemporary dance scene.
“While every dance form creates its own aura, the solemnity of Bharatanatyam keeps its traditional purity with its strict grammar that keeps it away from the alien influences of other art forms. Its features — display of moods, music and melody and perfect timing —have made it so popular in the West.”
Devayani feels that being a foreign national was never an impediment inher learning, “Try to catch the essence of the spiritual themes, their inner beauty and essential nuance, imbibe them and gracefully use them in the designed format. The art doesn’t care if you are Indian or French.”
She shakes her head in disapproval of dance which lacks depth. “I believe that the chaos in our life and times is represented in the dances of Bollywood and perhaps the overall commercialisation of the art has reduced its purity.
Apart from a few movies like “Devdas”, I find that the television is full of people moving their bodies. I can’t call that dance, it has no grace or melody.”
In the initial stages of her training under eminent gurus including Guru K.G. Ellapa Mudaliar and Kalaimamani V.S. Muthuswamy Pillai, she grasped the beauty, rhythm and spiritual power of this dance form.
“All art forms, if practised properly, have the power to transcend reality and give the audience a higher, more spiritual experience. Especially in times when there is so much unrest in our world, it is important that artists, as global citizens spread harmony,” she says.