Classical Indian dance, ethnic dance, South Asian dance... Bharatanatyam has embraced different umbrella-titles in the global scenario. For a dance form that has been referred to by different names through our history — from Dasi-attam and Sadir to Bharatanatyam, such titles are nothing new.
Many academics and scholars have analysed its journey from the temples and royal courts to the proscenium stage and in the recent past, it is also being performed at corporate events, pop-up dance spaces like malls, places of historical interest or tourist destinations and other innovative spaces.
Amidst the ongoing changes in the world of Bharatanatyam, one feature that has come to stay is the ‘sense of community.’ A dance form that traces its origins as a cultural form does faithfully subscribe to that trajectory of practice, training and learning in addition to various other modes through which it continues to be taught, performed, disseminated and communicated.
Taking one look at the number of spaces training/teaching Bharatanatyam in the U.K. – there is a mixture of practitioners/teachers from India, Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. The third category is pretty much still less in comparison to the first two.
The Sri Lankan community plays a major role in the U.K. dance scene but our focus here is only on the first category — the Indian Diaspora; to be more specific looking at only one dance form — Bharatanatyam.
With Indians sprinkled all over, the island, the first intent that has come to stay in the minds of every aspiring Indian parent is — “ I want my children to learn classical dance just so they are in connect with our culture!”
Most practitioners start with a handful of students in their local town, county and sometimes, set up branches in other counties and cities. Then there is the advent of summer schools, workshops, week-long intensives during school holidays that are offered in addition to the regular classes.
Among the prominent gurus, who are grooming the next generation of Bharatanatyam dancers include — Pushkala Gopal, Usha Raghavan, Geetha Sridhar, Stella Subbiah, Shalini Shivashankar, Ananya Chatterjee, Nina Rajarani, Kiran Ratna, Swati Raut, Chitralekha Bolar and Anusha Subrahmanyam. A popular west-London institution is the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, which has shaped splendid performers and choreographers under Guru Prakash Yaddugudde.
The aforementioned is not an exhaustive list as there are numerous pockets known and unknown, wherein Bharatnatyam is practised and taught. In addition to their own methodologies of teaching students there is the ISTD syllabus that is slowly becoming sought after by parents since it gives accreditation to teach Bharatanatyam in schools, whilst also contributing credit scores towards their academics. Bharatanatyam training in the U.K. benefits from a youth training programme for talented youngsters called Yuva Gati — in partnership with Sampad Arts and Centre for Advanced Training, Birmingham.
Examinations and regular training aside, allied awareness, professional training, further development and skill sets to identify and channelise strengths, weaknesses and opportunities is another important aspect that is being acknowledged. This aspect is satiated by mentorship concepts, artist development schemes, education and other forms of support offered by experienced professionals such as Chitra Sundaram, Piali Ray, Shobana Jeyasingh etc. and organisations such as Akademi, Sampad Arts, Kadam, Kala Sangam, Gem Arts, Annapurna Indian Dance, Milapfest and SAA-U.K.
On another trajectory, a slightly younger cohort of dynamic practitioners such as Shrikant Subramanyam, Lakshmi Srinivasan, Santosh Menon, Bhagyalakshmi, Meera Vinay, Nrithya Rammohan, Jayanthi Sivakumar, Krishna Zivraj, Devika Rao, Chamu and Annapurna Kuppuswamy and many others are also active in imparting Bharatanatyam training, propagating knowledge and disseminating it through different mediums like community, mainstream, collaborative partnerships, national and international corporate events, mega-outdoor spectacles, workshops, schools and hospitals and other new and innovative mediums.
On the academic front, there are experts like Dr Avanthi Meduri, Dr Ann David, Dr Allesandra Lopez Royo, Dr Stacey Prickett and (late) Dr Andre Grau who have all contributed to the dance-form’s visibility, academic research and higher-education prospectives.
The dance scene in the U.K. is definitely vibrant with performances, workshops, outreach activities, intensives, symposiums, conferences, lectures or even more the recent BBC Young Dancer competition (2015 & 2017) which is all great and motivating, but none of this would have been possible if not for the unstinted spirit of the community from which it has originated. In essence whether the next generation of the diaspora takes dance seriously or not, atleast a seed has been sown in terms of generating a rasika/informed audience that is so essential for the artform to thrive.
Divya Kasturi, disciple of Guru Udupi Laxminarayana, teaches Bharatanatyam and Carnatic vocal in Hertfordshire and Peterborough and also works in the mainstream through her ‘Divya Kasturi Company’.