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Reflections of an Indian Dancer (2022)

Sooraj Subramaniam collaborates with Balbir Singh Dance Company to bring Reflections of an Indian Dancer, a work anchored in three exquisite solo works from the classical dance traditions of Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak, touching on the universal themes of home and sense of self, whilst remaining focused on the power of the individual performer.

The bold and at times very vulnerable monologue that accompanies the performance is revealed through a startling spoken word soundtrack, where the audience is taken into the interior world of the performer and invited to explore their own sense of identity.

 

The dancer’s practice and the appearance of ease that come with it are the foundation of any performance, yet the audience is never privy to this daily search for perfection; an artist’s life remains private until only the final, minutely crafted performance is ready.

 

It is with this sense of a dancer’s interior life that Sooraj Subramaniam approached this new work Reflections of an Indian Dancer. This is his first autobiographical work; weaving together a lifetime of artistic experience, it takes performative expression beyond the physical to delve into the most human of questions about home, identity and belonging.

Credits

Concept & direction: Balbir Singh
Writing, screenplay, choreography & performance:
Sooraj Subramaniam
Dramaturgy: Dan Mallaghan

Production: Ezekiel Oliveira & Balbir Singh Dance Company
Audio production: Elia Tomé
Trailer: Nathan Towers, Towers Film and Media & Minh Nguyen
Photography: Emma Ledwith & Malcolm Johnson

Duration: 70 minutes

A brief history

Reflections of an Indian Dancer features three out of the several dance styles recognised officially as classical in India. While such classification isn't without its problems, it is used here to give the sense of studied practice and codified grammar. Since the work itself is not encyclopaedic, below is a broad overview of the historical backgrounds of classical Indian dance.

Bharatanatyam hails from the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and is perhaps the most globally popular of the styles. 

 

Odissi was born in the east-Indian state of Odisha, and was revived from much obscurity through the study of scriptures, paintings, poetry and temple sculptures. 

 

The practice of Kathak spanned from east to west across the northern regions of India, and carries influences from Hindu and Mughal cultures. 

All three styles began in ritual activities and storytelling related to temple worship, performed predominantly by female hereditary performers. Over the centuries the styles came to be associated with royal patronage, during which time they were formalised and expanded, becoming richer through the cross-pollination of various cultures and aesthetics—religious or secular, prosaic or poetic, Hindu or Muslim.

 

During the British colonisation of India, traditional dance forms suffered much turbulence, their practices being banned from the temples and courts, and their hereditary performers maligned by the prevailing socio-politics as immoral. 

 

India’s independence movement generated a tide of revival and reformation of these styles from the early 1900s, ushering them onto the proscenium stage. Many ideas were borrowed from western theatre production, not least being the appropriation of the term classical, branding the styles as ‘high art’ in order to garner respect and popularity. The dances were painted with romanticised antiquity, lending them the sanctity of myth and purity. Although hereditary artists remained marginalised throughout, the process opened up the practice of dance to people from other backgrounds.

 

Despite these political and contentious changes, the styles now enjoy widespread success across the international diaspora. Contemporary iterations of these styles are imbued as much by traditional concepts as they are by narratives that are personal or political.

Repertoire

Reflections of an Indian Dancer includes excerpts from the following works:


Nandi Chol (Song of Nandi) depicts the celestial bull dancing in joyful praise of his lord, Siva. 

Lyrics and composition: Muthuswami Dikshithar (1776-1835)
Choreography: Guru Adyar K. Lakshmanan (1933-2014)


O’ blue-throated lord, whose prowess resounds across the universe,
Who wears in his crown the crescent moon, and is beloved to Parvati,
Who is the luminance of Kailash (Himalayas), and who reduced Kama (Eros) to ashes,
Your praises lie in song and scripture.

 

Pallavi in Raga Kalavati is an abstract dance highlighting the sculpturesque form of Odissi, followed by an expressive ode to Krishna.

Lyrics: Saint Banamali (1720-1793)
Composition: Guru Ramhari Das (1953 - )

Choreography: Guru Debaprasad Das (1932-1986)


Dear friend, behold that Krishna who plays the flute, he has stolen my heart and mind. He looks so handsome wearing a flower garland and a tilted peacock-feather in his headgear. Come, listen to the praises of that Krishna, that son of Nanda, who outshines even the god of love.

Tarana in Raga Puriya Dhanashri is a non-narrative composition showcasing the technique of Kathak.
Composition and arrangement: Kadamb Centre for Dance and Music
Choreography: Guru Kumudini Lakhia (1930 - )

Kaahe Nahi Aave Mora Piya

Composition: unknown
Arrangement: Kadamb Centre for Dance and Music
Choreography: Sanjukta Sinha

 

Why hasn’t he arrived, my beloved?
Like a thrilling gust he moves, neither asking nor telling
Leaving me awash in longing.

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