Dancing with ‘an accent'

Sandra Chattarjee. Photo: Nita Vidyarthi   | Photo Credit: mail pic

Sandra Chatterjee has established herself as a leading contemporary dancer of international repute, who has explored a range of movement idioms and has performed with excellence in diverse styles. Trained in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, she holds a Ph.D. degree in Culture and Performance from the University of California (UCLA), where she taught as a visiting scholar.

Her recent choreographic production, ‘Tagore on Vinyl -Travelling with Thakur,' which has been travelling the country after its premiere in Munich, has displayed exceptional creativity - in the deluge of Tagore-centric productions - for its novelty and character.

She was exposed to Indian dance in Germany during her school days.

“I was dancing Western forms but without training. I only started seriously in ballet and Euro-American contemporary dance as an adult, many years after my arangetram in Kuchipudi.

“My dance training in childhood, was always in a strange tension with my surrounding in Germany. At that time, not even Bollywood dance was so widely known in Germany. The closest way to relate to classical Indian dance, for most people I met in Germany was ‘belly dance' (which is not a term I usually use—I am citing). This tension that has accompanied my practice in Indian dance in Germany since childhood, has been influencing my ‘contemporary' work, which is often concerned with the audience's gaze. This has a reciprocal effect on the performer. So for me it's three major geographically distinct audiences I have been concerned with in my work: German/ North European, Indian and American (mostly a diasporic Indian audience in America),” mentions Sandra.

Dual roots

With strong roots in India (Bengal) and Germany, there has always been a multiplicity in her awareness of learning and knowledge, simultaneously learning two systems of communication and observation of the world around her.

But which identity does she relate to emotionally in her dance? “This is a difficult question, because—though I know that we function according to these identity structures, I tend to reject being associated with one or the other customary identity category. Relating to one or the other has never been part of my experience. So, in my choreographic compositions, if I consciously approach identity constructions, my approach would usually aim at blurring the lines,” she replies. . Her compositions cannot really be regarded as a blend of contemporary and Indian classical dance. Sandra does not actually see them as “fusion”—as she does not consciously set out to “mix styles.”

“I have been trained in various dance and movement forms. Kuchipudi, in dance terms, might be considered something like a ‘mother tongue' for me — though I believe I dance with ‘an accent.' But I also studied Bharatanatyam, and very recently I began studying Odissi with Sharon Lowen in Delhi.

“ In terms of ‘non-Indian' forms, I have studied Polynesian dance (Hawaiian Hula and Tahitian dance) for a number of years. And in many ways, Polynesian dance continues to influence my movement language more than Euro-American contemporary techniques. All the forms that I have been trained in have become part of my body language and range of movement. When I conceptualise and choreograph a piece, I draw on the full range in order to realise my artistic intention”, emphasises the 37-year-old dancer.

She adds, “In addition to cultivating a wide movement range, my choreographic process is crucially influenced by critical theories, post-structuralist and post-colonial theories. Theoretical (academic) inquiry and choreographic process are inseparable for me.”

For her intellectual background as a dancer, she is in a position to comment on the culture specificity of dance. To her, the way people dance and move is very much entangled with cultural, social and political specificities—both in terms of content and form. How do people move—what does a particular movement mean in a specific context—what movements are allowed or censored?

Another important aspect she stresses is, why, for what reason, and where, people dance: in the theatre, on stage, on the street, in a temple, or at a party. Does dance have a social, artistic or ritual function?

Interpretation of Tagore

On her interpretation of Tagore in her most recent production, she admits, “It is rooted in my knowledge being fragmentary, incomplete, remembered, maybe forgotten in parts. In the recent piece on Tagore, it's about re-discovering, making connections between fragments of memory, and delving deeper from there into interpretation.”

The premiere in Munich had an interesting response. “There was confusion and bewilderment, because the piece went against expectations people had about Indian dance in general and presentation dealing with Tagore's work. There were also very positive responses from a wide range of people: from diasporic Bengalis and classical Indian dancers to avant garde-theatre professionals, who, before the piece, had never seen in India or at international conferences much contemporary Indian dance nor knew anything about Tagore. The variety of people who related to the piece made us very happy,” remarks Sandra.

Apart from her choreographic and scholarly pursuits, intersecting research on contemporary Indian dance, gender and performances, theorisation and artistic practice, the transnational independent choreographers organisation, Post Natyam Collective, operating through an online process, working in body-based performances, flourishes her aesthetic sensitivities.

With Aditee Biswas, a director from Delhi, comes a solo project with the working title ‘Unfinished,' inspired by the work of Amrita Sher-Gil to be premiered in little less than a year.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 4:34:39 PM |

Next Story