For noted Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant, dance symbolises a core strength that has helped her fight the biggest battles of her life. A cancer survivor, she used the medium of dance to regain her positivity. The Padma Shri awardee, who was here in the city to participate in the ‘Nrithya Vaisakhi – 2014’, spoke to Metro Plus about her ideas, experiences and dance means to her.
What are the life skills that dance taught you? Dance has taught me focus. When you are dancing, you cannot allow your focus to move even for a second. It teaches you grace, dedication. For me personally, dance has been a great strength, something that I fall back upon whenever life throws challenges at me. But I was able to pull myself away from all these issues and draw strength from this passion. That’s why I insist that one should nurture a passion. It can be anything – dance, music, writing, gardening or any sport. This passion is the core strength. In the IT world, they talk about core competence. I would say that we should go a step further and create in our children, a core strength of purpose, personality and commitment – all this comes from a passion. There is so much of lack of balance in the next generation. Since they are so focussed on core competency that the minute some imbalance happens, they feel rudderless. A passion becomes the core strength of an individual.
You have been a cancer survivor. When you look back, how critical was dance for you at that challenging phase of your life? Dance helped me to completely shift my mind away from cancer . I didn’t have time for cancer. Any such challenges that life throws at you comes with its own melodrama. And society also throws a lot more melodrama at you. For instance, with cancer and the treatments, you lose hair. You are weak. It’s like a little whirlpool that pulls you down. It holds true for any issue – loss of a beloved, a pet or a job loss. It can hit anyone at anytime. But I refused to be in that negative space. I chose to be in the space of dance. Because I had that option I was able to do that. I used to take three days rest after my chemotherapy and on the fourth day I would go for my dance lessons. I have given dance performances between chemotherapy and radiation sessions.
Yes, I had my weak moments. I would look at my image in the mirror and feel so horrible about my looks every time, I cried. And then I would snap out of it. There is no time to wallow in self-pity. Dance is my strength, my life breath. The moment the mind told the body that you have to focus on dance, I was emotionally and psychologically out of cancer.
What is your biggest strength? My biggest strength lies in my ability to look at the funny side of life. I am able to laugh at everything to a large extent. But all this has happened due to my biggest strength that is dance. During my cancer treatment, I couldn’t dance as much as I did in the first year. I could perform just once a month. But I attended national conferences in cities like Chennai that helped me to be engaged with the art in its entire manifestation .
How did you use it as a medium to express your views on various issues? Dance to me is a complete language through which I communicate to the audience something that bothers me – it may be a political statement or my take on gender issues or a philosophical statement. I am able to tell different stories. It needn’t necessarily be stories of Gods and Goddesses or mythology. Basically dance is story telling in the public context. I had done a production called ‘What about me’ in 1999. In that I contrasted Sita with dowry and Draupadi with rape – the issues that are relevant even today. Sita raises questions like why Ram asked her to go through fire.
I also made a production on Panchatantra because I suddenly realised that there are only the old and the bald in my audience. (laughs) I used to wonder how to connect with the youngsters. That’s when I created Panchatantra which is fun, contemporary story-telling and something that you would deal with on a daily basis – ego, arrogance, jealousy. Dance is also a powerful medium to bridge the gap between cultures and community.
One performance that has stayed on with you? I loved performing in Cambodia when I was invited for the international Ramayana contest. Being a student of archaeology, my dream was to go to Angkor Wat. I performed for four nights in a row. There was a huge 20,000 audience and performing to the backdrop of the Angkor Wat temple was like a dream.
Your message to the younger generation Go find a passion. Chase it, nurture it. It may or may not become your career, but it will be your core strength. Instead of rushing to different Gurujis, just find your own strength and then find a Guruji who will lead you a path. You have to take care of yourself.