Steps over borders

classical dancer
Last Updated 01 August 2015, 18:42 IST

Daya Tomiko is not another Japanese who performs Bharatanatyam because it is fashionable. She is someone whose surreal experience of observing her own physical body and the audience while she was still dancing, and the energy flow she experienced thereafter, convinced her beyond doubt that she had found the chosen path in life.

It happened when she was performing the 4th korvai (a dance sequence of Bharatanatyam) of the Saveri Jathiswaram in a square between two major railway stations in Osaka, a city in Japan. She says she suddenly felt something bubbling up from the soles of her feet. It was like water boiling, and it was boiling over.

When the bubbles reached the top of her head, it seemed like smoke from dry ice was blowing out of her head and cascading down her body. She could feel her physical body melt away, and suddenly saw herself dangling her legs, sitting atop a seven-storied building that faced the square. It was the middle of the day. She observed a beautiful indigo sky with a crescent moon and twinkling stars. Then she looked down and saw herself dancing and the audience watching her dance. She wondered how she could be in two places simultaneously.

At that moment, she slipped back into her body. She was still dancing. But the audience reaction had changed. She could see happiness and joy in their eyes following her movements. The energy from the audience was growing stronger and recharging her every step. That was the moment of self-realisation. Her heart said only dance — Indian Dance — could bring her supreme joy.

Moved in India

For a religious person like her, India was the abode of all gods and art forms. She spent the next six months in India looking for the right teacher.

She was not inspired by the many dance programmes she saw until she saw Odissi dancer Sanjukta Panigrahi’s performance. More than the dance form’s technique, it was the expression of devotion to God in her performance that brought tears to Tomiko’s eyes. Through an Indian friend she heard that the ace Bharatanatyam couple, Dhananjayans, would be holding a 40-day workshop in Virginia, US.

Tomiko moved out of her apartment in Japan and went to Virginia. Little did she know that the moment had come. On the last day of the workshop, the Dhananjayans were to perform on stage. Even at 50, Shanta akka’s walk to the stage seemed like the movement of waves. Her humility, her freshness and beauty were mesmerising. Her performance teared up Tomiko. That moment was the turning point in her life. She realised that everything that had happened earlier was a prelude to this. She had come to meet the gurus of her lifetime.

Defining moment

At the end of the workshop, she was given a certificate of attendance. She asked  Shanta akka if she could write a message on the back of the certificate. “I admire your work. Keep it up. You have a bright future,” she wrote.

Until then, Tomiko had never visualised a bright future. In her eyes, this did not represent success or fame. The message inspired her to give back the same joy and happiness she received from the audience, through her dance. Dance to her is a prayer. It gives her the power to live, she affirms.

Tomiko is torn between her two worlds of existence. In India, she struggles because English and the local language are alien to her. In Japan, she receives no encouragement or support from the government because she performs an ‘alien’ art form. That doesn’t stop this

choreographer from using Bharatanatyam to interpret Japanese folklore. She is also the principal of Thanmaye-Nathyalaya, the Institute of Indian Classical Dance, and a lecturer in Indian Dance at the Osaka University, Faculty of Foreign Languages.

This Bharatanatyam dancer of international calibre is like a brilliant light whose radiance is yet contained in Japan. With divine intervention, the light will spread its brightness far and wide. The world will witness the spiritual dance journey that has transformed an ordinary office girl in her 20s, emotionally drained from her relationships, into a rare, amazing person.

Despite the obvious distance and language barriers, her sincerity, dedication and commitment shine through.

(Published 01 August 2015, 15:33 IST)

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