Bharatanatyam exponent Meenakshi Srinivasan talks about the grammar of dance and her choreographic plans for the year

Meenakshi Srinivasan is constantly intrigued by the way her body responds to dance. It is almost as if it is tuned to dance, she says. The dancer, after 13 years of stage performances and several uncounted hours of practice, is still fascinated by the mysterious power of Bharatanatyam. “The grammar of my dance has been structured to such perfection that it lets me be absolutely free. It has no boundaries,” she says.

Performing in Kochi for the first time, Meenakshi picked a margam (a traditional format of the dance) for the recital. With an invocation, varnam, abhinaya and a thillana, it is a complete package.

A student of Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli, Meenakshi has carved out a space for herself, where she has experimented greatly with the creative aspects of Bharatanatyam. It involves analysing the lyrics and interpreting them in her way. “It is about delving deep into the poetry, deconstructing it and communicating it through the language of dance.” However, it is an intense process fraught with disappointments and frustration. “Some times I wonder why it has to be so difficult,” she laughs. “Choreography puts a lot of physical pressure on the body and most times, you are not even happy with what you have come up with.” Perfecting a single jati itself may run into hours, but all the effort becomes worth it once she performs her piece.

Meenakshi says she owes it all to her guru. “Valli akka was not just a teacher to me. She was dance itself.” It is from Valli that she imbibed the practice of explaining a piece before a performance. “Valli akka does the explaining so well, that in itself is a performance.” She feels it helps the dance reach out to more people. “Communicating to a certain level is good. But a little bit has to be left unsaid, as that is for the audience to interpret and enjoy,” Meenakshi says.

She is currently attempting to do a varnam on Sita, which she plans to finish this year. “I read through several versions of the Ramayana. The music has been set. I generally take a long time on a piece.”

An architect with over ten years of experience, Meenakshi finds the rare balance between her job and passion. When she feels “frustrated” with choreography, she turns to her job. “That is when I feel a parallel profession helps,” she says. Having worked with SCDA Architects in Singapore, she gained valuable exposure in the field. Currently, Meenakshi runs Calm Studio, a high-end architectural consultancy in Chennai, with her architect husband and a friend. “It is entirely different from dance, but it is also very inspiring.”

Dance, Meenakshi asserts, is something that she has never relegated to secondary position. It is something that requires a minimum of two hours’ practice every day. Even amidst her busy schedule in Singapore, she made sure her practice was not affected. “The whole country would be out partying and relaxing while I would be moving the furniture to practise,” she says.

She is extremely appreciative of the European audience and recounts the experience of a performance in France: “It was peak winter. My performance was supposed to be at 8 p.m. and I had left a little early and reached the venue. I was shocked to see that the hall was already packed to capacity.” Classical dance would never attract such crowds in India, but ultimately, the number of people in the audience does not matter, she says. “What you get from the audience, even if they are few in number, is what is most important.”

The importance of technique

An ardent believer of technique, she feels in order to maximise one’s potential, one needs to have a strong foundation. One can only develop on a strong base, she observes. “Dancers perform for hours on stage. How do you think they do that without feeling fatigue? Dance gives you energy.” The support comes from the accompanists on stage, too. She does not forget to thank her orchestra, which gives its best each time. “I like to believe that my dance is just an extension of their music.”

Though she would like to eventually get into teaching, Meenakshi says she is not considering it now. “For now, I just want to dance, explore it and improve myself. I wonder if there ever would be a day, when I would feel ‘yeah! I’ve done it’.”