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Updated: May 22, 2014 14:03 IST

Dance beyond boundaries

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN
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HAPPY FEET Devissaro, Daksha Sheth and Tao.
Photo: S. Ravindran
The Hindu
HAPPY FEET Devissaro, Daksha Sheth and Tao. Photo: S. Ravindran

Interview: Daksha Sheth has taken the road less travelled, coming up trumps despite rejection and criticism

She has got the stage swept thrice, and is busy picking up bits of paper and dry leaves from around it. Daksha Sheth and husband Devissaro look fatigued; their clothes are crumpled and eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep. They had been setting up the stage from the night before for their performance at Saarang 2010.

“We build up each performance on a clean slate (read space). My works are movement art, where the bhava comes more from the body. So, the need to get every detail right,” says the pint-sized dynamic Daksha, pulling a chair to sit, amidst dozens of criss-crossing wires.

Nouveau approach

As she starts talking about her nouveau approach to dance choreography, you feel a new energy in her voice. Devissaro, standing with technicians a few feet away, repeatedly turns and smiles in agreement. He soon joins the conversation, explaining how difficult it is to do the stage for their kind of productions. “They think we are crazy when we demand to have the stage a day or two prior to the performance,” says Devissaro.

“It's different when we perform abroad as the auditoria there are well-equipped, and infrastructure support is better. We got the stage a week in advance when the ‘Midsummer Night's Dream' (directed by Tim Supple), for which I did the music, was performed in London. Yet, India is where the heart of our dance lies,” says the tall, cheerful pianist from Australia, who met Daksha in Delhi, where he was learning to sing dhrupad and to play the bansuri and pakhawaj. “I was drawn by her power-packed kathak performances and her eagerness and courage to look beyond,” says Devissaro, the visual and music director of the Daksha Sheth Dance Company. He's also a freelance composer and music director.

Labelled ‘Kathak dancer who went astray', Daksha took to learning various martial and folk forms after performing Kathak for 18 years. “I lived in remote villages in Orissa and Bihar with a baby in my arms, to learn chhau. I would train through the day, and sometimes be in severe pain. It was extremely difficult to break into a male-dominated territory and emerge as the first Indian woman to perform chhau as a soloist,” says the dancer.

She later moved to Kerala to learn kalaripayattu,and decided to settle there with her husband and two children, Isha Sharvani and Tao Issaro. “And, with flora and fauna too,” she laughs. “Our house-cum-dance studio is on the banks of Lake Vellayani on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, and surrounded by about 600 coconut trees. A mini-jungle! Snakes slither in and out of the house; they inspired my ‘Sarpagati'. It's an idyllic environ for creativity. My lifestyle reflects my approach to art.”

No stopping her

Purists called her performances blasphemous, and organisers kept away. But, the rejection did not impact her vision. “I was not doing anything as a desperate attempt to be different. And, as far as disservice to tradition goes, how many dancers would like to live in temples, dancing morning and evening just for the gods? I lived in the Vrindavan temple for more than three years, doing Krishnaseva through dance.”

Daksha also trained in yoga, Mayurbhanj and Mallakhamb. In her works, the aestheticity of the classical co-exists with the raw power of the martial. The rope dance that was panned in Indian dance circles as nukkad tamasha on stage, is, says Daksha, her biggest contribution to Indian performing arts. “Each work takes more than two years. And, other than my family, there are few who can share the pain and passion. Most youngsters who come to my dance school excitedly, leave within days unable to take the rigorous body and mind training. So, I work with a small team,” says Daksha.

“I never forced my children to take it up either. They don't even carry our names. I wanted them to have an identity right from birth,” says the free-spirited dancer, who does not tread the beaten path as a mother too.

Her children never went to a school; studied through correspondence for sometime before doing what their heart dictated. And, unlike other teens, the talented siblings love to live in their cosy home amidst Nature, far from the teeming city.

Tao plays half-a-dozen instruments, and is training in Western and Carnatic music. He also composes pieces for his mother's productions. Isha is into dancing, films and choreography. She has been working on a musical that she will soon unveil.

Do they not miss the fun of going to school and college or hanging out with friends? “That's a way of life, but not the only way. And, who said we do not have fun. When you do what you enjoy, that's fun. Isn't it, dad?” asks Tao, lifting his mom fondly as his father joins him to pose for a picture with Isha's poster in the backdrop.

A family that stays together, creates together!

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