‘Instant results are impossible’

Investing our activist tendencies in artistic pursuits is an effective way of addressing issues around us says internationally acclaimed Kathak danseuse Pali Chandra

Pali Chandra observes her disciples keenly. She asks them to redo footwork, one to recite shloka and explain meaning, another to match her hastas with her emotions – so on and so forth.

Gurukul Studios on Wood Street has been bustling with practice sessions, demonstrations and workshops on Kathak since a year after Pali Chandra and her sister Somna Tugnait set up their studio in Bangalore. Last year though the sisters who already have their classes up and running in Dubai, London and Switzerland, thought it would be easier to set it up in India, Somna, Managing Director, Gurukul Studios says: “We faced peculiar challenges. Parents in India expect instant results which is impossible in case of a classical dance form. So we get better response for workshops rather than for regular classes here. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to get that workshops are but a supplement to the main course.”

Yet within a year of its operation in Bangalore, it has over 50 students of all age groups. While the senior ones have already geared up to give their grade three exams of Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), the rest are preparing for grade one and two. Not just exams, as it is Gurukul Bangalore’s first anniversary, most of them performed for their annual day along with their instructor Amrit Mishra yesterday.

Kathak exponent Pali Chandra who has been in the forefront of training Kathak students systematically in Europe, Middle East and India speaks to The Hindu on the relevance of the dance form in contemporary times. Excerpts from the interview:

As a global teacher, you’ve not just set up studios worldwide but also offer Kathak courses online.

My aim is to reach as many people interested in Kathak as possible and the modern-day technology enables it. So why not make use of its advantages? While the number of students is growing every year, we ensure through various mechanisms that its quality is not compromised.

At a time when technology is overtaking the lives of teenagers, you promote Kathak to channelize their energy.

Kathak is a form of storytelling and it offers space for children to tell their stories. For instance, one of my disciples conceptualised and choreographed a piece on depression recently. She named it ‘darkness’. It is no doubt challenging to depict these complex ideas through Kathak, but interestingly children enjoy and want to do more of it. It is because these contemporary themes resonate with their inner selves better and they are able to relate to it.

Is there any difference between the reception of contemporary themes by Indian students and those abroad?

Interestingly, Indian students wish to do more on contemporary themes, whereas foreign ones prefer traditional items. They are thrilled to become Durga, Krishna and other Indian goddesses on stage.

‘Instant results are impossible’

The power of mythological stories are not to be neglected and therefore I make sure that my disciples especially in India interpret these tales. What does it mean when Durga drinks the blood of a demon without spilling even a single drop? These interpretations would make them connect to a number of current events or concepts keeping mythological characters as symbols of attitudes, behaviours or intentions.

What do you mean by the collaboration of the artist and the activist?

The activist energy in us tends to react to things that are awful or unbearable. It enrages us and we end up at logger heads with establishments.

For making our anger or disappointments truly heard, we need to respond to issues in a creative manner. For that, it is necessary that the activist in us seeks the help of the artist.

How challenging is it to portray depression and trauma?

We cannot understand trauma through words. We have to understand it through silence and minor movements. More often movement of a finger or an eyebrow says a lot more than the whole body put together.

To prepare my disciples for understanding these subtleties, I ask them to make sense of their surrounding by keeping their eyes shut or hug a beloved just with their eyes. Through these exercises I am attempting to make my students use those less explored faculties that are often kept dormant.

It’s time that we understand how overwhelming these muted expressions are and how powerfully an artiste can convey it through minute and delicate movements.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 5:00:20 PM |

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