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Choreographer extraordinaire

C.V. Chandrasekhar has made tremendous contributions towards classical choreography and credit goes to him for popularising Bharatanatyam in the north as well.

DOYEN OF DANCE: C.V. Chandrashekhar has been devoted to Bharatanatyam for many decades.

HE IS a colossus in the arena of classical dance. Five and half decades devoted to dance and dance alone may not spell anything novel; there are other veterans who have outnumbered him; but what sets C.V. Chandrasekhar apart is his choreographic brilliance. There is finesse in treatment of a theme and presentation that can be sensed in every step and scene of his productions. The man is as charming as his creations and sensitive in his outlook, which reflects in the thematic content of his choreographic pieces. Some excerpts from an interview:

What made you take up dance as a profession when you are academically qualified in the sciences?

There was this inner urge in me right from boyhood towards dance. Though my father was very fond of music, a boy taking up dance as a subject did not appeal to my family. So I managed to study music at Kalashetra (Chennai) along with regular education, of course. I was with and in the Kalashetra from 1945-50.

Did you have the opportunity to dance along with Rukmini Devi Arundale?

Though I was a student then, I danced with her in some of her productions like Kumara Sambhava. It was indeed a privilege then.

Why did you have to leave such a prestigious institution like the Kalashetra?

I had to give in to my family pressures and went to Benaras to do my post graduation in sciences and till 1980 I worked as a regular academic lecturer. But I never gave up dance and used to perform for all functions in the college and elsewhere. I started making Bharatanatyam popular in Uttar Pradesh trying to take up themes from Hindustani bhakti poets and music.

You are more popular as Baroda Chandrasekhar over there? When did you shift your base?

When I was offered the post of head of the department of dance in Baroda university in the Eighties, I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to pursue a profession after my heart. I had a highly satisfying career there, having been the dean till my superannuation in 1996. My best creativity was nurtured and matured here. Now I am based in Chennai.

Are you still a performing artiste or have you confined yourself to choreography?

I am both. In fact my entire family is into dancing, my wife Jaya and my two daughters. I performed very recently in the festival season at Chennai. I've been dancing without a break for the past 56 years from the age of ten. Though after my Baroda stay I do not maintain a permanent troupe, I travel abroad a lot, teaching, training and performing. I am a regular visiting faculty at the Hyderabad Central University.

What do you think is your contribution to the medium?

My choreographic works are my mainstay. They are entirely different from the regular mythologicals that form the thematic base of most traditional dances. Mine are abstract themes that are given a concrete presentation via the dance medium. My science background has helped me evolve a bond between art and science, which figures in my choreographic pieces. For instance my work Aarohana is based on Darwin's theory of evolution, which is akin to our Dasavathaara myth. Similarly my Panchamaha bhootam is again on the five elements in nature. The format is shaastriya Bharatanatyam but the themes are contemporary.

Almost all present day dancers are experimenting with the `contemporary' themes as against the traditional mythological subjects. Has mythology proved irrelevant to the present times or is it outdated?

Neither. Mythology is so wide a canvas that it can never lose its relevance, it can never run out of time. It is a part and parcel of our culture etched into our memories, generation after generation. But as the ancient seers always said art should cater to the bhinna ruchi (varying taste) of the public if it has to appeal to its times. It is not as if I have jettisoned mythological themes altogether. But I like to try out varied styles and view mythology from a different angle. My version of Ramayana, I named it Bhoomija, is a reactive piece, which dwells on Sita the protagonist from whose view the entire Ramayana story unfolds. The characters of Rama and Ravana are entirely omitted and yet the desired effect is achieved. I take it as a challenge to work upon the numanics like the solkattus and mould them with an individualistic style. To that extent I can say my work is contemporary. My solo performances are entirely in the Bharatanatyam format.

How do you manage to merge an alien tongue into a totally indigenous medium like the Bharatanatyam? Does it not distort both?

The idiom of Bharatanatyam is so strong that it can blend into any language. Having lived all my active years in the north of India, I had to take my medium close to a Hindustani audience using their mode of expression. I can say I have been something of a pioneer in creating an interest and appreciation of Bharatanatyam in the northern India.

What are your latest choreographic contributions?

Recently I did a very interesting work called Kreeda. I stylised all the indigenous games of India, those simple rustic plays like the gilli-danda, the top-spin and such into the chain of Bharatanatyam. The aesthetics as well as all the coordinating factors fell right into place making it a satisfactory creation to me. I am excited to take up a challenging task like this and see the end result. If it is approved and appreciated, I consider it an achievement, an award that nothing can equal.

What difference do you find between the dancers of your generation and the present one?

The young generation of dancers today are a dedicated lot, determined to keep the art going. They are much more intelligent than us during our heyday. They are exposed to an expanse of information thanks to the rapid technological progress. They are no longer bound by their teachers. The desire for quick rise in the field of art has become the guiding principle of the present day dancers, which was non-existent in us. We loved art for the sake of art and we were highly motivated by our audience who were our patrons and judges. Even today, a capacity hall in season for my solo performance moves me and I unconsciously give my best. There was never a time among any of my contemporaries or me when we had to resort to commercial gimmicks to get an audience and applause.

What is your message to the young dancers of today?

By all means keep your PR, your diplomatic contacts intact. As a profession dance can be frustrating if the returns and rewards seem like a horizon. But beyond all this, allow yourself to involve in what you are doing. Put your heart and soul into your performance and derive that immense fulfilment that no external embellishments can equal. I find a lot of young dancers looking physically uncouth and unmindful of their figures.

There is no excuse to literally throw one's weight on a stage and ask the audience not to be critical of it. `Natya Shastra' does lay down the qualities a dancer should be bestowed with. It is essential that a performing artiste should pay attention to her physical structure, which has a long way to go with her/his agility and flexibility. Regular, rigorous practice is the best prescription to a sterling presentation.


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