Dance sans borders

As you watch Mio Ikeda perform odissi, you wonder about the futility of borders

Japanese dancer Mio Ikeda.

Dance has the capacity to transcend borders. This is the feeling that I get after watching Mio Ikeda perform odissi. I also have to overcome the sense of guilt that has me wondering about what nuances a Japanese could possibly bring to this dance form, after having watched many great artistes perform this dance.

The interpretations that Mio brings to ‘Ahe Nila Saila’ (devoted to Lord Jagannath), ‘Yahi Madhava’ (from the Gita Govinda) and ‘Surya Ashtakam’ (an obeisance to the Sun god) have me intrigued enough to find out more about her and her foray into a foreign dance form.

Mio’s love affair with Indian dance begins in her 20s in 2000 when she starts learning bharatanatyam in Nagano, Japan. Soon after, she comes down to Chennai to learn it. She completes the foundation with Jyotsna Menon where, after an initial struggle with stamina, she develops the determination to forge ahead.

This is followed by training under Padma Shree C V Chandrasekhar, under whose guidance she gets several opportunities to perform both solo and group dances. Though tough, Mio says that she really enjoys the guru’s classes as he teaches her the nuances and the essence of bharatanatyam. She also takes a crash course in Carnatic vocal to understand this dance better.

It is in 2012 that Mio develops a fondness for odissi after enlisting for a workshop in Tokyo, under the tutelage of Rahul Acharya. Besides the costume, jewellery, posture and music, it is his style and vast knowledge of this Indian classical dance form that results in Mio making a shift to odissi.

She starts visiting Bhubaneswar regularly, for intense coaching under him. This love affair with odissi sets off many solo performances for Mio including at the Devadasi National Dance Festival in Bhubaneswar in 2016 and at the Jagannath International Festival in New Delhi in 2017.

What about India?

Mio says that it is Indian culture that attracts her first, as she had been exposed to a bit of Indian philosophy in high school. She is fascinated by highbrow thoughts of the “real self” and “real freedom in detachment.” A photo-book on India by the Japanese photographer Shinya Fujiwara and a travel diary on India by the Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo pique her curiosity about the country further.

At 16, when Mio visits Nepal, she is charmed by the country and its happy people leading relaxed lives. She compares this with her life in Tokyo, travelling in packed trains ,and hates it. A young Nepalese man tells her that he has visited Japan and though it’s a nice country, one can’t be happy there unless one is well-off, whereas in Nepal, one can enjoy life even without riches. This sets off her contemplation on the real meaning of life.

Mio says that she lost her mother in her 20s. “My father loves music and art,” she adds. “He has always given me freedom to choose my path in life and encourages my dance, as does my husband.”

Mio is happy that many music and dance events are open to the public in Chennai, unlike Japan where everything is ticketed. Also, it’s a pleasure to perform under the clued-in rasikas, and this, for Mio, is one of the greatest joys of performing in Chennai and other parts of India. “Dancing for me is a kind of meditation. I feel the integration of body, mind and soul when I dance. I also internalise the feelings of the poet to whose words I am dancing,” she explains.

In the process

After learning a new dance item, she says, “I research the story and background as much as possible. If there is any book on the subject, I read it. Over the years, I have learnt quite a bit… I am still learning,” she adds.

Mio has done Vipassana, is a certified yoga teacher, and enjoys teaching children with special needs. She says, “Dance and yoga have taught me a lot about discipline and dedication. I take joy in carrying the spirituality of Indian culture to Japanese audiences, who don’t have access to Indian culture.”

Though India is chaotic, she prefers this to the regimentation of Japan. She finds Indians friendly and expressive unlike the Japanese — reserved, though extremely hard-working. It is this sense of hard work and determination that is visible in Mio Ikeda who, though belonging to another country, has mastered this dance form. As you watch her perform, you wonder about the futility of borders.

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