Owning an idiom

Owning an idiom

In Indian soil

Adaptable Kristina Dolonina

Stephen King once famously asked, “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” It does not matter whether Kristina Luna Dolinina has come across this quote or not, but she certainly is following it in her life.

A Lithuanian by birth, Kristina is today an accomplished artiste proficient in kathak and odissi, and has performed in both styles in several countries in Europe, and in India. Her journey is intriguing, to say the least, with its beginnings in Vilnius University where she was studying Philology.

In 2009, Kristina founded the Natya Devi Dance Theatre, an explorative art space that incorporates events, festivals and intercultural projects. Flitting between Europe and India, Kristina today not only performs regularly but also conducts classical dance workshops in kathak and odissi. A multilingual collaborative professional, Kristina is researching kathak as a modern performative practice at the Lithunian University where she teaches Hindi language and literature and Indian Performance Art. She was recently at theLalit Arpan Festival of Dance   in New Delhi.

Excerpts from an interview:

From philology to Hindi language to Indian classical dance... how did this journey come about?

While studying philology, I wanted to learn a non-European language. I picked Hindi and Turkish, but right from the word go, I liked the sound of Hindi. I was lucky enough to get a one-year scholarship in Kendriya Hindi Sansthaan, Agra in 1997, and then again in 1999. By that time, I had familiarised myself with Indian art forms; frankly, I was utterly fascinated especially with the aspect of abhinaya. I decided to enrol in a Master’s course at JNU. That was when a professor friend from Poland recommended that I learn kathak from renowned scholar-dancer Shovana Narayan. I ended up learning kathak for seven years under her. My guru became my mother, and her team, my family.

Weren’t you ever wary of a new culture, new language and country?

Of course! It scared me. Everything was alien and challenging, but always interesting. I was seeing a different universe first-hand. The lessons in cultural diversity I picked up along the way have widened my understanding and deepened my world view immensely. But most importantly, I found myself here and just answered the call of two of my greatest passions – art and travelling.

What does dance mean to you in its deepest sense? What do you find most challenging about learning classical dance forms?

Movement speaks to me, and has always done so. In my teenage years, I was involved in theatre. But today, dance it is the language I communicate in. Coming from a different cultural background, I found adapting to this idiom tough. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a strange, uncoordinated and clumsy figure trying to move. But I persisted. My gurus taught me how to become empty so that I can be filled again.

What is your opinion about experimentation with classical art forms?

When one has perfected the base, one can experiment. As far as dance is concerned, I feel historically there has always been experimentation. Forms come and go, some are redone and new movements are adopted. It is an ongoing inevitable revolution because in life as in dance, there is no constant.

Can you recall your first stage performance? What is the strongest memory you have of it?

I had been practising, but when I first went on stage, I felt blank. My mind was screaming that my practice was not enough, my knowledge was poor, my body was far from perfect, and I did not know the technique. But as I began to dance, all of it faded away. I just melted into the experience and this is what happens every time on stage. Once you assimilate into it, you can only flow along.