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Reaching for art in its purest form

French born Isabelle Anna is an accomplished Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancer, and now, her aim is to teach and impart her knowledge to her students.

TWINKLE TOES: Isabelle Anna found her soul inKathak

INDIAN PHILOSOPHY propagates the theory of previous births and vasanaas or samskaaraas pursued in after life, which has been scoffed at by many a modern mind. Well, Isabelle Anna is out to prove this to all those tongue-in-cheek sceptics. Here is a French citizen, born of French parents in France who was able to discover that her soul lay in an Indian dance medium -- classical Kathak. She wanted to get into the recesses of this particular mode of dance and decided to devote her time and energy towards pursuingit. Her perseverance not only brought her to India (New Delhi to be precise), it also awakened the artiste within her .

Isabelle Anna was born of parents who were classical musician-dancers. She took to Bharatanatyam like fish to water when an Indian teacher joined her parents' `Center Mandapa' in Paris. Western ballet dance came naturally to her as did western classical music. But Bharatanatyam was an alien form both in content and choreography. Yet she could master it, learn its nuances, its underlying philosophy and its surface meaning. "My initiation was by M.K. Saroja of Chennai. I gave my first public performance at the age of eight on television in Paris. Then of course came live shows as I matured in the art,'' Isabelle says matter-of-factly. What made her shift her preferences to Kathak? "There is more than one reason. I had an accident, which damaged my knee. It rendered my Bharatanatyam performances impossible as in this dance one cannot do away with knee-bending adavus. I was dejected that I may not able to pursue my dance career, which had become my second nature by then. At this juncture, I happened to see a Kathak performance by Sharmila Sharma in Paris who later became my guru. The moment I saw those graceful movements, the body language, the technical precision in footwork and chakkars (whirls), my spirits soared. Then and there I knew I found my soul in this medium,'' her eyes light up as she speaks.

Her initial training moulded her into an accomplished artiste but the thirst to learn Kathak in its purest form was her life's ambition. And here she landed a year ago in New Delhi on the Indo-French cultural exchange scholarship programme. She joined the Kathak Kendra as a residential pupil under none other than Pandit Birju Maharaj's son Pandit Jaishankar Maharaj. Despite being a performing artiste, the institutional enrolment has a hidden purpose, says Isabelle. "My sole aim in life is not to end up as a performing artiste but to teach Kathak, to be a guru and see my pupils spread my dancing abilities far and wide,'' she says. Will she run her parents' school or will she start a centre of her own? "No idea, perhaps I may run the centre as it already exists. I have not made solid plans on starting something of my own. My performances will continue, but I would definitely like to settle down as a teacher some day should god permit me with a healthy and long life till then,'' she says looking skywards. Talking of Kathak as an intricate dance medium vis--vis Bharatanatyam, Isabelle feels in the latter, the dancer has to do her part while the guru takes care of the `nattuvangam' and the orchestra does its bit. "In Kathak the onus lies with the dancer herself. She has to introduce the theme, the taal, lead the tempo and the orchestra will just follow. The dancer should also be able to stop amidst the performance and spell out the `bhol' (words) of the song. So it requires an intensive training in yoga and tabla .'' she explains. On the transformation of medieval `Hindu' style Kathak to the `Mughal' style, Isabelle feels the fusion was inevitable but fortunately the classical character of Kathak did not get dissipated in the transition. "In fact it is happening now in the present day. A lot of modernity has crept in and is being passed off in the name of Kathak. I have come all the way to learn and experience it in its origin, where it was born and nurtured. I have to be careful not to be tainted by modern influences as once I get back and start performing in Paris I have to give my best in its original form as the French are great patrons of art and are very good judges,'' she states.

Isabelle's determination to master Kathak has led her to learn the language, understand the intricacies of Hindustani taal (beat), genre like the tumri, the ghazal, the khayal. Here is a foreigner who is ready to reach the recesses of the art to emerge a full-fledged, perfect artiste.


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