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Updated: September 6, 2011 14:54 IST

Classical moves in Kiev

Vladimir Radyuhin
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'I was totally captivated by the beauty and depth of Bharatanatyam. I wanted to make it my lifelong artistic endeavour,' says Ganna Smirnova. File photo: V.V. Krishnan
The Hindu
'I was totally captivated by the beauty and depth of Bharatanatyam. I wanted to make it my lifelong artistic endeavour,' says Ganna Smirnova. File photo: V.V. Krishnan

Ukraine's capital is home to a thriving school of Indian classical dance, thanks to the efforts of Ganna Smirnova.

Ukraine is not exactly an India-centric country and its capital Kiev is a patently European city. It is therefore remarkable that Kiev is home to a thriving school of Indian classical dance. It is even more remarkable that it came about through the efforts of a lone Ukrainian enthusiast of Bharatnatyam, the South Indian ancient temple dance.

Over the past eight years, the Indian Theatre Nakshatra has given countless performances, organised Indian art festivals and trained scores of Ukrainians in the art of Indian classical dance.

Nakshatra's founder Ganna Smirnova, praised by Indian art critics as an accomplished performer of Bharatnatyam, is not only its artistic director and main teacher but also the soul and moving spirit of the theatre.

She had her first glimpse of Indian classical dance during a “Year of India” festival organised in the Soviet Union in 1987. By that time she had 12 years of training in classical ballet as well as in Russian and Ukrainian folk dance behind her. She was also practicing yoga, and familiar with the Upanishads and the history of India.

“I was totally captivated by the beauty, rhyme and depth of Bharatanatyam,” says Ganna. “It was a fantastic blend of philosophy and mythology with music and movement. I wanted to make it my lifelong artistic endeavour.”

In 1998 she went to India on a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). For the next five years she learned Indian classical dance intensively under Guru Jayalakshmi Eshwar at the Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi. She also took up learning the Mayurbhanj Chhau dance and Carnatic vocal music.

ICCR distinction

Her mastery of Bharatnatyam was so amazing that by the end of her stay in India, the ICCR added her name to a panel of best performing artistes, a rare distinction for a foreigner.

Eager to share her passion for Indian classical dance with fellow Ukrainians after her return to Ukraine in 2003, Ganna set up the Nakshatra dance theatre at the Taras Shevchenko State University in Kiev, Ukraine's premier educational institution. More than 200 students have since attended her dance classes; five of them later went to India to improve their techniques and two have started teaching in Ukraine.

For Ganna's students, Nakshatra Theatre is more than just dance classes.

“Bharatnatyam rouses their interest in Indian culture and history,” Ganna says. Besides teaching the theory and practice of Bharatnatyam, she gives master classes, lecture demonstrations and seminars at different educational institutions in Ukraine. Thanks to her efforts, Indian classical dance has become an indispensible feature of Kiev's cultural life.

The Nakshatra Theatre has staged several dance dramas based on the Indian epics, organised international festivals of Indian classical dance and music and invited famous Indian gurus of dance to teach local students. Nakshatra has turned into a veritable oasis of Indian art in the heart of the Slavic world.

Two years ago, Ganna wrote a book on Indian classical dance titled Indian temple dance — Tradition, legends and Philosophy, the first such book in Russian by a practicing local performer. She is now doing further research on the aesthetics of Indian temple dance at the Shevchenko University.

How can one person cope with so much work? Part of the answer is because of Ganna's Indian husband, Sanjay Rajhans who provides inspiration and support in all her endeavours, besides teaching at the Shevchenko University.

“I try to give a sense of encouragement and logistical support to my committed and god gifted wife,” says Sanjay, who met Ganna at a music class in New Delhi.

Sanjay and Ganna have twin daughters named Kate and Liz, aged 8, who are being raised in the dual Indian and Slav culture.

“They read Pushkin and the Ramayana and learn from Mama the basics of Bharatanatyam and Russian ballet,” he says. “We are trying to expose them to the very best of values of our two great civilisations.” Who knows, the first dynasty of Slav performers of Indian classical dance may be on its way up in Ukraine.

I have been very keen on Indian culture and, especially, the art of dance. A year ago I left the New York City and moved to Kiev, where I wanted to continue my studies of classical Indian dance. To my delight, I discovered that Kiev is full of outstanding dance groups and instructors of Indian dance.

Now, it is almost a year that I have been studying with Mykhailo Kryvchuk. Mykhailo was the first artist in Ukraine to study and promote Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam. As Marina Kurnilovich has pointed above, Ukraine prides itself with a number of bright and remarkable artists, who perform various kinds of classical Indian dance and are experts in their fields. I am very glad that the choice is not limited to single Nakshatra! And I am very upset that the author of the article is not informed about it!

from:  Orekhova Svitlana
Posted on: Aug 26, 2011 at 11:34 IST

I know many people in Kyiv practising Bharatanatyam better than her, for example the first Ukrainian who opened Indian dance Mykhailo Kryvchuk. Brilliant dancer! By the way, Mykhailo was Anna's first teacher in the school Saraswati for two years.

from:  Victoria P.
Posted on: Aug 22, 2011 at 14:07 IST

Smirnova had no training in ballet. I went to her school to learn Bharatanatyam and left. Then I saw Lenlaxmi Shatokhina and went to her and I am happy. Shatokhina is the best. She had excellent training in ballet and lived in India for 15 years! Why not mention her?

from:  Iryna Kleitman
Posted on: Aug 21, 2011 at 15:52 IST

Wow!!! I have been to Ukraine on the International Festival of Indian dance 'Rythm of Joy' previous two years. And there were lots of Indian dance groups from all corners of Europe and mostly from Ukraine that took part in it. But unfortunately,i have not seen or heard about that girl.

from:  Olga Ivanova
Posted on: Aug 20, 2011 at 15:12 IST

It's really a great effort to enhance Indian Art in all over the world. We are really thankful to you and wishing for your success.

from:  Parul Tomer
Posted on: Aug 20, 2011 at 09:34 IST

Excellent article but we find it unfair when it is stated that Ganna is a lone Bharatanatyam enthusiast in Ukraine.Indian dance is loved by Ukrainian people in all its styles - classical, folk and Bollywood and not only loved but is actively promoted by more than 20 Indian dance groups all over Ukraine.Moreover,there are over 10 ICCR students who underwent the training in different dance styles under very reputed dance gurus in India: Mykhailo Krivchuk,Svetlana Bondarchuk-Roshan, Marina Kurnilovich, Olena Ryzhey, Nadezhda Shabinskaya,E lina Abakarova ,Galyna Mytroga,Tetyana Dykan,Sergey Zhuravlyov, Ala Arthur. The fact of great love of Ukrainian people to Indian dances and large number of enthusiastic professional and amateur artists can be confirmed by famous Indian dance critic Sunil Kothari who came to Ukraine,International and National Indian Dance Festival on the invitation of Ganna and Sanjay. All of us are very different but doing our best to make Indian culture close to our people.

from:  Marina Kurnilovich
Posted on: Aug 18, 2011 at 17:56 IST

Interesting piece. I sent it to my friends in Moscow and Kiev, who also practise Indian dance.

from:  Galina Nesterova
Posted on: Aug 18, 2011 at 13:00 IST

I am very touched by this story. I always knew that Indian Classical Dance can have such a life changing impact on anyone who cares and loves dance like life itself. It is descipline that prepares you to live happy. I am so proud of this young woman who is an example to the world.

from:  Bharath Boochoon, Trinidad
Posted on: Aug 17, 2011 at 06:09 IST
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