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Updated: August 1, 2012 19:37 IST
Dropping In

Defying gender stereotypes

Madhavi Shivaprasad
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Wearing several hats: Dasappa Keshava, proponent of the Mysore school of Bharatanatyam, has dabbled in sculpture and theatre, and is fluent in multiple languages and dance styles. Photo: By Special Arrangement
Wearing several hats: Dasappa Keshava, proponent of the Mysore school of Bharatanatyam, has dabbled in sculpture and theatre, and is fluent in multiple languages and dance styles. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Keshava believes that self-reliance in attending to one’s own chores has an influence on an artist’s performance

“Dance does not conform to any specific gender. It is not the body that is involved in dance, but the soul,” says Dasappa Keshava, a prominent exponent of the Mysore School of Bharatanatyam.

Keshava recently performed at Alliance Française de Bangalore, while giving a presentation about the distinctive features of this form that set it apart from the others.

“The movements practiced in the Mysore style are slower and more fluid. This allows for more ‘sahaja abhinaya’,” he says. “The style is a part of the Rajanartaki form, which is now rarely practised by artistes in Karnataka.”

Keshava, who was trained under a pioneer of the style from the University of Mysore, Venkatalakshamma, was awarded the Karnataka Rajyostava award in 1997.

Carving out a niche

“We lived very close to the Mysore palace and Dr. Venkatalakshamma used to dance regularly in the temples surrounding the palace,” Keshava recalls his days as a pupil. “I was eight then and was absolutely enamoured by her performance. But I didn’t dare enter and take a closer look lest I be reprimanded.”

Being one of the few male dancers in the field did not bother him too much, although there were some social prejudices he had to overcome. “My family played an important role in supporting my interests,” he says.

While professional learning came much later, he was actively involved in theatre in school and college.

He also worked as a mechanical draftsman carving out sculptures of wood.

“As I completed my diploma before I was even 18, I did not get a job easily,” he says. “There were a few craftsmen from Kerala who had rented a house near ours and worked with wood; I took to working with them. Sometimes, I would sit up all night finishing a carving,” he recalls.

European pioneer

A man who wears several hats, Keshava also has a flair for language. He has learnt to speak Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and English, and converses with his family in German.

He moved to Switzerland in 1975 with his Swiss wife Esther Jenny and the following year, they founded the school Kalasri, the first school to train students in Bharatanatyam in Europe.

The school also teaches yoga and European dance forms.

“Yoga not only keeps the body healthy and flexible, but it is also important to achieve that essential ingredient of spirituality, which needs to be communicated via every performance,” Keshava explains.

The couple’s three children are also avid dancers and accompany them in performances.

Innovative fusion

He has learnt Russian ballet, Spanish dances and even tried his hand at ice skating, among others. Among the Indian dance forms, he is trained in folk dances, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Kathak.

“When one has to choreograph and compose songs, one needs to learn from all the available avenues. There has to be innovation and improvisation, which is possible only through fusion of different dance styles,” he reasons.

Keshava believes that self-reliance in attending to one’s own chores has an influence on an artiste’s performance. “When you perform, you are also preaching a certain form of behaviour. If that is not consistent with what you practice at home, somewhere you feel incomplete. Simple chores like sweeping the floor or swabbing give you utmost peace of mind.”

Even after having performed several times on stage, every performance is as exhilarating as the previous.

However, performing with his daughter has always been very close to his heart, he says.

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