V.P. Dhananjayan and his wife, Shanta, explain the plus points of Indian dances, its unique status in the cultural firmament and the dancers’ contribution to Kerala.
‘Bhaaskara,’ located at Payyannur, is my gift of love and respect to Kerala.
‘Beyond Performing’ is the title of the latest book authored by Bharatanatyam maestro V.P. Dhananjayan. Though well-known to the world as a superb performer and choreographer, the title of his book would aptly describe the vast and varied realms traversed by this multi-faceted personality. Dhananjayan and his wife, Shanta, who were in the capital city for a programme organised by Regatta Cultural Society, spoke on various topics in a free-wheeling chat. Excerpts from the interview:
On Indian dance
‘Dance’ would be a rather elusive term to use for the rich repertoire of classical and folk art forms that we have. The right word would be ‘Natyam.’ In fact, I would urge and request everyone to use that term. ‘Dance ‘suggests mere body movements,’ while ‘Natyam’ includes ‘nritha’ (pure dance) and ‘nrithyam’ (enactment) and geetam (music). Our performing art forms are thus complete and comprehensive.
Our natyam has a 3-D effect – they entertain, educate and elevate. We have the technique to express any emotion or portray any situation to which any human being can relate to. That is why I include even contemporary issues such as pollution in our performances. It is a mere myth that the common man cannot appreciate classical dance. I remember a performance in one of the Gulf nations, to which some sheikhs had been invited. They were totally new to Bharatanatyam – in fact all they knew of Indian dances was the loud cinematic gyrations they had witnessed at the many mega shows staged in the Gulf. At the end of the Bharatanatyam recital, they were so impressed that one of them came forward and said that he was “going home with peace and contentment, instead of the usual boisterous feelings.”
Dance and patrons
In the olden days, kings and temple authorities patronised the arts. The legacy that we enjoy today is the result of their long-sightedness. This role of the patrons of art must be taken up by corporate bodies, who are indeed the moguls of today. The media too, can and must play a key role.
Contributions to Kerala
We are probably the first to choreograph Swati Tirunal’s compositions and introduce them to audiences, especially outside Kerala. In fact we have even had full-length performances based on Swati compositions. Yet recognition in the form of ‘Swati Ratna’ puraskaram, came not from Kerala, but from Tamil Nadu.
‘Bhaaskara,’ located at Payyannur, is my gift of love and respect to Kerala. Keralites come to Chennai to learn Bharatanatyam. The lack of a proper training institute in Kerala with the right atmosphere made me dream of such a centre and Bhaaskara is the outcome. It is an art-integrated education centre for the present and future generations. Here, valuable traditions are retained while adopting a progressive approach.
Over 25 years ago, I was offered the Padma Sri. But I declined it, sincerely, saying that I did not think I was mature enough to be given such an award. But since then, the powers-that-be seem to think that I have boycotted it forever. However, sometimes awards do come unexpectedly as pleasant surprises. Recently, we were on a tour of the United States, when we were honoured with the coveted World Peace Award by the Chinmoy World Peace Foundation. This honour was to be bestowed on the living legend Pandit Ravi Sankar, who graciously nominated us and requested Swami Chinmoy to honour us instead.
On the Dhananjayans as a team
Who is the better choreographer?
“He does all the research, the building up of themes and weaves stories and sequences to suit the theme. I only execute,” says the modest Shantakka, as she is affectionately known. “Well, let me put it this way,” adds Dhananjayan. “She is the engineer and I am the architect.” But it is quite evident that they respect each other as artistes and human beings. The key ingredient in this perfect partnership, both on stage and off stage.