All the world's a stage

Contemporary

All the world's a stage

For Jyotsna B Rao, it is not the dance form that is important, but the creative expression it ensures, writes Bhakti Bapat, after a tete-a-tete with the contemporary dancer.

The stage has been set. The lights are dimmed or made starkly bright depending on the subject at hand. In this time of myriad TV dance shows and the Shiamak Davar blitzkrieg, if you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill masala dance entertainment performance, you’re in for a huge disappointment.

What you will get, though, is a performance that will give you pause. It may not necessarily or always entertain, but it makes a statement. Enter the world of the contemporary dancer. Jyotsna B Rao, danseuse extraordinaire and a qualified psychologist to boot, is an emerging talent in the contemporary dance arena.

But contemporary dancer is a broad term for someone who has been trained in Indian classical and international dance and movement forms like bharatanatyam, ballet, kalaripayattu, yoga and pilates, among others.

Many creative artists use dance as an expression of their individuality. We ask Jyotsna which one’s her favourite from all the dance forms she has been trained in. Says she, “Kalaripayattu, a form of martial art, defines me the best. It has movement, stillness, dynamism, power and intense meditativeness. The practice has revived me as a performer. The days when I have not practised kalari are the days I feel very unenergetic.”

Traditionalists may bemoan the practice of contemporary dance merging age-old classical arts. What’s her take on it? “Well, it depends on how you choose to do it. If a painter chooses to paint a Warli style in a Van Gogh format, then the painter’s understanding has to be deep enough for both the art forms before she paints a new combination without affecting the characteristics of the two. Similarly, when a dancer or a movement artist combines various forms almost organically, a new beauty emerges,” she finishes succinctly.

Key influences

Jyotsna is a graduate of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, and a post-graduate in Psychology. How do the two mix? “I was fortunate to have worked with Attakkalari in the beginning of my career.

The studio is the best in the country and offers many opportunities for dancers who dream of a professional career in dance. Jayachandran Palazhy, artistic director of the Attakkalari Centre, is one of the key influences in my dance career. My professional dance career started under his guidance and I learnt with many internationally reputed dancers and mentors,” says Jyotsna.

She adds, “My so-called conventional Psychology degree and the less conventional dance training, each satisfied the right and left hemispheres of my brain! I feel fortunate to have had both.”

So, who have been her other influences? “Initially, the greatest influence was my aunt Bharathi Vishnuvardhan, who is not just an actress to me, but a mentor too. She’s also a very humble and loving person. Our house was filled with her pictures and I subliminally aspired to be like her.

Also, my grandmother Jayalakshmi, who had her own small costume set-up for theatre and dance. She loved to ritualistically dress us up in mythological characters. She is very artistic and diligent. I think I’ve borrowed the genes of these two people.”

Variety of work

She continues, “Michael Jackson as an artist is also a huge inspiration. I moved only to his numbers as a kid. Also, professionally, Nakula Somanna, owner of the community dance forum Origins, is someone who inspires me. Nakula is a sensitive and humble human being.

His sense of humour and quirkiness makes movement seem like a beautiful piece of opera. Finally, the variety of work that Dakshaji (I’m currently with the Daksha Seth Dance Company) and Dada (Devissaro) create continues to enthral and inspire. I had dreamed of working with the company and I knew I was meant to be here.”

Over the years, Jyotsna has been an active member of the Bangalore theatre scene (she is a member of the popular Topcast group). How did theatre happen? “As a student, I chose my University because it excelled in theatre productions. When I was 19, I acted in an English play called ‘The Misunderstanding’, directed by Prakash Belawadi. I thought acting would be a cakewalk, but soon learnt that it took serious commitment and dedication.

I then began acting in amateur productions and worked on mime, voice and physical exercises with NSD graduates who were called by our theatre co-ordinator in college. The journey with theatre has been special, for it taught me humility, respect for space and developed a sense of meditativeness in me. To enact a role, you have to enter into the character’s shoes.

This sense of being in a zone, I still carry with me during dance performances. Even today, the whole process of bringing a production excites me. The conglomeration of music, text, costumes, make-up and dance is like a festival.”

In the past, Jyotsna has been invited to the UK by Brouhaha International for an exchange programme and has performed across Germany, Sweden, UK and South Korea.
So, what’s next? “For now, I am happy to be learning again, with Dakshaji and Dada.

The company is set amidst lush greenery and the work is influenced by Indian traditions, yet has an inexplicable rawness and an organic movement vocabulary. Music is composed along with the creation of dance and the visuals created are not commonly seen in any other company’s work,” she signs off with a flourish.

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