Dance of life

Dance of life

Eternal rhythm

Dance of life

Committed: Geeta Chandran strikes a pose.

She is Padmashree  Geeta Chandran and has exemplified to the world just how poetry, music and movement can be woven seamlessly into human existence.

“I never thought that dancing and music took any special effort. To me it was spontaneous and I did it because I loved it and it still comes from my heart,” Geeta says.

The renowned Bharatnatyam dancer, who has mesmerised audience across the globe with her art, will be performing in the Bangalore International Art Festival in October.

With the perfect blending of tradition and modernity Geeta wishes to start with a traditional Mallari followed by slokas on Sun God and Shiva Panchakshara, a short theme from Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara and finally winding up with a Tagore song as a mark of respect for the poet on his 150th anniversary.

 Geeta, known for the way she skillfully weaves abstract notions of joy, beauty, values, aspirations, myth and spirituality into her dance, feels that tradition is like a flowing river, not a stagnant pool. “Old and new are relative terms. Tradition can always be re-invented and reinforced till one reaches the depth and that is where  evolution of an artiste takes place,” she says.

This effort to look for new meanings in tradition has urged her to give a visual form to the abstract concepts in her Ode to Shiva.

Apparently Namah Shivaya has a simple meaning implying reverence to Lord Shiva. But Geeta goes deeper and seeks to explain “Na implies feet, Mah naval, Shi shoulder, Va face and Ya the matted locks.”   

Perhaps Geeta’s art of creating a visual drama out of poetry reaches a crescendo when she performs a short canto on rain from Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara.

“I have sought to create something where three layers of dance, music and poetry merge seamlessly and exist in perfect harmony,” says the star performer.     

Founder-President of Natya-Vriksha, an organisation devoted to promoting Bharatanatyam, Geeta has evolved a holistic style of teaching the classical dance which  engages young learners. She has presented the arangetrams (debut performance) of 25 senior disciples who continue their training under her and she continues to mentor over a 100 disciples; several of her students have blossomed as full-fledged performers.

Geeta has constantly striven to create new spaces for the classical dancer of today.  She has continuously attempted to push the frontiers of the classical art and to reach out to new, and especially young, audiences.

Geeta believes that dance must be linked to life and that artists must use their unique position in society to make a difference to life and living. Her choreography pieces Her Voice  and Imagining Peace articulated her conviction that dance can be a vehicle to build social bridges. Her widely acclaimed dance-theatre production Kaikeyi  and her choreography pieces on the themes of  drugs have thrown the spotlight on issues of social stigma. Her 2008 work,  Mythologies Retold  addresses the social curse of female foeticide.  She is also known for using classical Bharatanatyam to amplify gender and environmental issues.

An top dancer at Doordarshan and at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Geeta has been recipient of both the junior and senior Research Fellowships from the Government of India’s Department of Culture. She is recipient of several awards including the Dandayudhapani Pillai Award, the Bharat Nirman Award, the Natya Ilavarasi, the Indira Priyadarshini Award, the Media India Award and the National Critics Award.
But more than awards and accolades, it is the sheer divine experience that attracts Geeta to this particular form of art.

She began learning Bharatanatyam from the tender age of five years under the tutelage of Swarna Saraswathy, who hailed from the traditional Thanjavoor devadasi parampara and taught Geeta that dance was nothing but her offering to the Almighty.

“Dance is still a seva for me ,  a way to connect with my higher self,” she observes. “And when one is into it, the artiste is so emotionally charged that she feels very light, her body consciousness is simply not there.” 

And that is why dance comes from heart. She feels that one may be very good at techniques, but the sequential movements cannot be called dance if there is “no soul.”
Geeta is celebrated not only for her deep and composite understanding of the art of Bharatanatyam, but also for her Carnatic music (she is a trained and accomplished vocalist), her work in television, video and film, theatre, choreography, dance education and dance activism.  She has a authored  a book, So Many Journeys, an intensely personal collection of her writings narrating her engagement with Bharatanatyam.
In her book entitled Dynamic Women Dancers (Women’s Hall of Fame series) Canadian author Anne Dublin listed Geeta Chandran as one of ten global “all time great dancers”.
So where do we see Geeta Chandran after, say, 20 years?

She says simply, “I just want to fade away quietly with my anklets on my feet.”

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