Alternative expressions

Alternative expressions

New Perspective

Alternative expressions

It is this dialogue that people witnessed at the Indo-French Festival of Contemporary Dance in Delhi recently as Anusha Lall, through her choreographed performance, ‘Tilt’, exhibited how change could be introduced in a dance form without tampering with its essence; how the techniques of Bharatnatyam can be deconstructed and be the starting point for experimentation and play.

The stage at the French Embassy School was open to the audience on all four sides and sheer visual poetry was created as the five performers (Anusha Lall, Mandeep Raikhy, Rukmini Vijaykumar, Aranyani Bhargav and Lokesh Bhardwaj) moved in and out at different points of time, sometimes with their backs to each other, using both the centre-stage and the edges for dance movements.

“‘Tilt’ is an experiment,” revealed Anusha when I caught up with her. “I tried to explore the Bharatnatyam movement principles by not fusing it with something else, but by trying to see how if other conditions are presented, Bharatnatyam would still remain Bharatnatyam.

‘Tilt’ negotiates the boundaries between what is Bharatnatyam and what is not; and it attempts to create fresh perspectives in the way this classical dance can be performed and viewed.” Besides ‘Tilt’, the other recent choreographic works by Anusha — ‘Sambodhan’ and ‘Vyuti’ — have also been efforts at trying to discover fresh dynamics within the language and movement dynamics of Bharatnatyam.

Anusha had trained in Bharatnatyam with Leela Samson for about a decade when she slowly began to sense a drift. “I found myself dancing without being engaged, without being present in it. This was a gradual process of moving out and then, one day, I finally withdrew.”

It was a long, painful and emotional time during which she plunged into academics and did a Master’s in Art History from England. But, just as gradually she had moved out of Bharatnatyam, she found herself in an equally gradual process of finding her way back while in England.

“Literally on my way to the airport to get back to India, after my studies, I went for an audition with Sushama Jaisingh’s Dance Company that worked with several Indian dance traditions. I ended up working with them for two years and I also did a one year certificate course from the London School of Contemporary Dance.”

“I had a very different experience of the body there and my perception about Bharatnatyam changed. I began to find the functionality of this dance form very fascinating — in terms of restricted choice of using the body to be dynamic, to throw energy, to use space, etc.

For instance, in Bharatnatyam, in terms of movement, the body is restricted in consuming space; but again, space is consumed in other ways, say, through the gaze.” Thus, Anusha became interested in the dynamics between Bharatnatyam as a dance form and the use of space and body movements. And this is what has become her calling for the last five-six years now.

Multiple roles
Passionate as she is about dance, Anusha is the director and founder member of Gati, a dance forum based in Delhi. “Gati was started in 2007 and the idea was to create a base for dancers to communicate, a space where traditional forms can evolve. It came out of the need to create a neutral environment for discussing processes involved in dance forms and to work towards identifying the needs of the dance community.”

Gati also brings together other fields associated with dance like video, sculpture, theatre, digital art installations that aim at challenging the traditional perceptions about viewing dance, costume design, writing for dance, etc. It conducts residencies, workshops, research projects, festivals, etc.

Parting ways, I asked her if she has ever faced criticism from traditionalists for trying to play with a classical dance form like Bharatnatyam. Her response was reassuring, “People have been very encouraging so far. This is, perhaps, because I am not interested in breaking the form, but in allowing it to evolve; to create new things from the language. And as you know, Bharatnatyam has over the centuries grown, but by evolving.”