What does dance mean to you?
For me, dance is my breath, my life. It is my expression, my identity and is the essence of embodiment of love, concern, sensitivity and humanity.
How would you define yourself as a dancer?
I am a dancer who uses the depth that comes from knowledge and understanding of music, poetry and literature and a deep awareness and sensitivity to the surrounding environment. I am deeply interested in different philosophical traditions and cultural interpretations.
How did you get into dancing?
I was extremely lucky to have been born into a family that, despite being traditional, was very forward looking and gave me the fullest support to be who I am. My family had several stalwarts in fields of literature, classical performing arts and politics. Hence it was natural for me to imbibe all these. It was no wonder that I was initiated into Indian philosophy and arts from my earliest years. I was initiated into dance at a very young age when I was not even three years old. To channelise the excess energy and because of the family background, my mother took me to the famous dancer-actress of yester years, Sadhona Bose. For me, I had found my life and breath! Dance, since then, has become my life, my breath, reason for my existence.
You have been performing as a Kathak dancer for over six decades. How has your journey been?
Life has been full of sweet and “not so sweet” experiences. This trajectory between birth and the inevitable death has been full of adventures. I was born at a time in Indian history where dance was not acceptable as a profession in an upper middle class family. People extolled my achievements awhile on the other hand, my parents and I had to face a lot of criticisms.
Even though I have been on stage for over six decades, but my early recognition as a professional dancer began in 1970-71. It has been a fascinating journey where one has seen so many changes in perceptions and acceptance towards dance, changing scenarios even within classical dance and changing aesthetics of presentation and content.
As for me and my works, I can only say that I have always been instinctive and spontaneous. I love the entire vast canvas that Kathak affords, namely that of rhythmic abstraction at its height, as also the infinite vastness of the abhinaya canvas. Rhythmic wizardry is captivating not only to the performer (and that to in his/her youth) but also to the audience. I believe in being true to oneself and I believe in classicality of approach, depth, and expression. It is a heady process but so satisfying and enriching as I keep learning each time.
You have spearheaded and produced international collaborative works with leading dancers of West. How do you think they perceive Indian dance and how was the experience?
I have found the Western audience to be most awed and interested in Indian classical dance as many of them take it as a true aesthetical representation of Indian philosophy, literature, music and movements including the costumes that all exude the flavour of Indian-ness. All dance forms in all cultures are narrative even in their abstraction yet the fascination for Indian classical dance is greater because of the extensive usage of gestures to convey the meaning of the accompanying text and of facial expressions. The intricacies of our rhythmic patterns and the ‘raga’ system of music that are intimately part of Kathak or any classical dance form, also has great appeal.
But on collaborative works, I would like to state that dance, a universal vehicle of expression, has many clothings, each being colourful and riveting. If Kathak and Flamenco were gravity bound, then ballet’s approach was to release itself from gravitational pull. In this process of collaborative works, I also found that it is Kathak alone that can truly be said to be a bridge between the West and the East.In all our collaborative works, language was never a problem for all of us understood each other perfectly as we all spoke the one unifying language and that was the language of gestures and emotions!
How easy (or difficult) is it to make a mark in this field? What do you think one has to do to excel?
All vocations including dance require dedication, solid foundation of training, hard work, depth in approach and execution, understanding of all related disciplines and perseverance. Then only can anyone hope to make a mark in the chosen field be it classical dance or something else.
How would you define yourself as a guru?
As a guru, one strives to impart a solid training in all aspects of Kathak. Yet at the same time one exhorts the disciples to sensitise themselves to imbibe the ethos and spirit of dance, approach to a movement and so many related issues that can be imbibed through observation and experience. But at the same time, one is always exhorting them to reason and be sensitive to surroundings for dance helps in maintaining the innate sensitivity and concern. It is extremely important that one should be a brilliant dancer but it is equally important that one should be a good human with good values and ethics. As a Guru, one would like to see the disciple to grow and become an independent strong tree capable of flowering and bearing fruits. A thought that I usually share with all students and parents is that our ancient Indian philosophy has always laid equal emphasis on arts as well as academics thereby balancing the negative and positive elements within us (call it tandava and lasya or call it yin and yang etc). The emphasis has been on ‘balanced development’.
What do you think is the future of Indian classical dance?
Indian classical dance traditions have come down to us for the last several millennia. Speaking of Kathak, in its over 2500 years of recorded history it has weathered several storms of invasions, cultural impacts, winds of globalisation thousands of years ago. Yet Kathak has flowed and is still there, for all of us to see and experience. Unlike the popular arts that capture the imagination for a limited period of time, the classical performing arts reaches the inner being. Today one finds that there is a growing number of young children taking to classical arts in spite of being also captivated by the surrounding glamour of popular arts but also several grown-up individuals who are seeking inner fulfillment and inner peace in classical performing arts.
How do you think we can popularise Indian classical dance and music forms like Kathak across the world?
Popularising classical performing arts should be such that it becomes part of a being and that the core values that it subtly entails all of us to understand, removed from the glamour of crass commercialism, are imbibed. The effort should start early at school level as part of main curriculum besides the home, because it is then that these individuals grow up to be citizens engaged in various vocations but who are imbued with a sensitivity and appreciation of the classical performing arts all over the globe. It is these citizens who form the audience, the rasikas.
Tell us about your favourite creation in your repertoire?
It is difficult to say which has been or is my favourite creation. Each one is so different and they were all born out of my inner beliefs and thoughts, my response to various stimuli that could come from music, a text or an incident. These creations range from abstract rhythmic patterns to contextual creativities touching subjects of humanism, women and children issues, philosophical issues, the five vices of moh, lobh, kaam, krodh, ahankar among several others.