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A new dimension to dance

Bharatanatyam danseuse Sangeeta Isvaran has done extensive research on South East Asian art forms. Her recital on January 8 at Bharat Kalachar will be an attempt to share her rich experience.

SANGEETA ISVARAN, disciple of abhinaya exponent Kalanidhi Narayanan and Bharathanatyam danseuse Savithri Jagannatharao, will present a performance inspired by the art forms of South East Asia at Bharat Kalachar on January 8.

Sangeeta spent time last year in three South East Asian countries — Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia — to study the modes of expression in their art forms and compare it with Bharathanatyam. (India and the three countries she visited have one thing in common — the Ramayana.)

Sangeeta was an ASIA Fellow of the International Institute of Education (it is now called the Asian Scholarship Foundation), which encourages research and dialogue among the people of Asian countries. So far, Westerners have done most of the research on Indology and Asian traditions and there has been very little understanding and indepth study by Asians of their own cultural forms. Hence, this scholarship encourages studies by Asian nationals of their own culture.

Sangeeta's project was "Abhinaya in the dance drama forms of South East Asian Countries." She says, "Bharathanatyam is the only form that employs a great deal of mukhaja (facial) abhinaya (expressions). As a student of Kalanidhi Narayanan, I have worked extensively on abhinaya. I was keen on exploring how the other Asian traditions used their body to emote. I was also interested in understanding the body techniques used in the East, while many have been looking to the West looking at Martha Graham and other techniques for such expression."

Sangeeta not only learnt to perform the dances of the countries she visited but also documented her observations. In Cambodia and Thailand, she got an opportunity to work with the royal dance companies as well as with commercial sex workers, street children, and the inmates of drug rehabilitation centres.

"This experience gave me tremendous insight into and understanding of the way physical expression is used in different cultures in normal life. "Learning the different ways of expression was a revelation. Particularly in Cambodia, where there is a great deal of emphasis on politeness. Because of the recent genocide, there is a whole generation of youngsters who are guarded about the way in which they express themselves. I decided to try to get them to let their hair down and just bob their heads in time with the music. Soon, everyone began to laugh; it broke the ice; and it was easy to introduce them to abhinaya. .

"For the January 8 performance, I do not want to do a cut and paste job. I have decided to look at common melody and rhythm patterns in Carnatic music and Bharathanatyam and move naturally without thinking of a particular structure of a form in mind. So it is a movement language of Asia. Bharathanatyam is, of course, the basis since it is from there that I am moving to the other forms. I am nervous and excited about sharing the experiences and knowledge I have acquired during my South-East Asian trip," laughs Sangeeta as she gets ready for her daily routine as a dancer trying to organise rehearsals along with the accompanying musicians.


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