Shankar Kandasamy, an established Bharatanatya dancer from Malaysia, believes that once an artist has his original style well grounded, he gets the artistic licence to innovate
Why is Indian classical dance treated with such high regard among from numerous other dance forms that it coexists with? Perhaps it is the rare origin of the form, the many stories and morals it is capable of portraying or its inextricable bond with the land's mythology and spiritualism. This thought resounded in my mind while watching a rehearsal of Shankar Kandasamy, an established Bharatanatya dancer from Malaysia.
As he practised with his supporting artists, the spirit of Hanuman was conjured up through various faculties.
Visuals of Hanuman diving towards the sun, crossing the massive ocean, setting Lanka ablaze, playing humble messenger between Rama and Sita and bringing down the Sanjeevini mountain for Lakshmana, sprung up explicitly from his vibrant dancing.
The body language of Shankar as the strong yet humble Hanuman was so apt and identifiable to the very first images of the monkey God in the mind, from childhood readings of the old faithful Amar Chitra Katha.
A dance teacher, choreographer and one of the artistic directors of The Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), Shankar was in India in December for performances in Chennai, Pune and Bangalore.
Discovered and initiated into dance very young by his spiritual guru H.H. Swami Shanthanand Saraswathi, grounded and sculpted by the senior teachers of TFA, Shankar continues to learn from every opportunity.
Exposure to various classical dance styles like Odissi and Western classical ballet drives his creative impetus.
“As we look for artistic avenues, there are interesting discoveries. Improvisation in dance can be intra — innovating within the same classical style, or inter — taking a movement from another classical style and internalising it to the original style.
“It does not matter where it comes from, so long as it has depth of detail.
“The artistic challenge is in blending seamlessly,” says Shankar.
He points out the kantha embroidery on a Kancheepuram silk sari as an example of the above.
Shankar emphasises that the trend always existed, right from Muthuswami Dikshitar using ragas from Dhrupad and Maharaja Swathi Thirunal bringing together the northern and southern styles of music.
Once an artist has his/her original style well grounded, he/she gets the artistic licence to innovate.
“Shankarabaranam”, an original piece of choreography that is testimony to Shankar's creative potential, relates the saptaswaras to the adornments of Lord Shiva.
When there is reason, logic and importantly feeling in a movement, it gains validity and acceptance from the audience. Elaborating on his opinion about choreographing, Shankar says he's conscious that the audience breathes with the dancer and keeps the choreography at an optimum for the dancer as well as for the audience.
Juggling and balancing between being a performer, choreographer and a teacher, is by itself a fine art that Shankar does with a lot of self-discipline.
Talking to Shankar about dance is as much food for thought as his dancing is a visual treat.
Start him off with a topic, be it “Oothukadu compositions” or the recent Natyakala conference in Chennai, and he has a valuable and valid insight on his fingertips.
Facts, analogies, excerpts and instances from books, epics and experiences, put together at the speed of thought, leave you amazed at the way he manages to organise and index his vast knowledge, which he also consistently updates with every new thing learnt.