In pursuit of peace and spirituality

In India, a dancer is an actor who is not just moving in rhythm but creating a text,” explains renowned Odissi da­n­cer Sharon Lowen when ask­ed what drew her to Indian classical dance 41 years ago. 

The noted danseuse has made India her home and continues to perform and even teach in India. 
 
And like her, over the years many foreigners too have increasingly taken up various Indian classical dance forms to fulfil their artistic urges. 

Be it Bhara­ta­natyam, Odissi, Kathak or  Chhau, almost every genre has found takers from different parts of the globe. 
 
Is it just the ‘exotic Indian-ness’ that is appealing to the westerners and those from the orient, or is it something beyond?
 
With World Dance Day approaching, Metrolife spoke to a few foreign-born Indian classical dancers to learn abo­­ut their impression and their dedication for the traditional Indian cultural art that has been adopted by them.
 
For few like Nikolina Nikoleski, the term ‘foreigner’ isn’t appropriate because “th­is word has not really connected well. There is nothing foreign in any world dance form. 

Take for an example classical ballet that originated in French co­u­rt, but is performed worldw­ide by Koreans, Chinese, Bra­zilians, Ita­lians, etc and no one ever addresses these dan­cers as for­­­­eigners but just as classical dancers,” reacts the Croatian dancer who is adept in Classical Ballet, contemporary dance and Bharat­ana­tya­m­.   
  
Nikolina started learning Bharatanatyam in 2004 and later received an ICCR scholarship. 
 
Her contemporary, Carolina Prada, a Colombian national is also establishing an important place for herself in the field of Odissi and Chhau. 

Though a foreign national, Carolina is capable of holding the audience attention thro­ugh her powerful movements and balancing acts in Chhau. 

“It is the style of Indian classical dance forms that is quite unique. You cannot find this expression and emotion in any other dance form across the world,” says Carolina who performs Colombian folk dance with equal panache.    

“Another aspect of Indian classical dance is that it mixes a bit of religious aspect, since they are based on Indian culture that has a spiritual aspect attached to it. Thus the dances are not performed just for fun,” she points out, emphasising on the tradition of guru shishya parampara.

 “A relationship between a teacher and a disciple that is found in India, can’t be found anywhere else. And of course, it is more challenging for us to take up Indian classical dance forms since we have to absorb a lot more and put ourselves into the shoes of an Indian per­son, to understand and communicate to the audience in the traditional format.”
 
This is where the question of abhinaya arises. 

While dan­cers like Sharon have proved to the world that expr­essions can be mastered with dedication and practice, there is still a doubt that hovers in the mi­nd about the ability of foreign dancers to emote well the many bhavas. 

To which the artiste says, “One should do nothing artificially. At one level, it is easy 
to have a good abhinaya while at the other, it is difficult to be free within the vocabulary. Any dance student copies the guru initially but as an artiste you have to be free when 
you express.”

Sharon agrees that “it is de­f­­­i­nitely an added challenge for a foreigner to attain perfect abhinaya but that could be because of students getting tra­ined in the technique only. Indian classical dance is about understanding and communicating the metaphysics of the text.” 

Giving examples she explains that a few dancers come to India to learn and incorporate parts of Indian classical dance in their western choreography, but there are some who “come back to lea­rn and grow as an artiste.”

In fact, the art pulls them back to the subcontinent, for “Indian classical dances not just address the inner world but also aim to offer the audience a view of the ultimate metaphysical reality. They take out all our selfishness till we enjoy performing and the audience enjoys watching us perform.”       
    

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