‘Dance is moving to highly innovative directions’

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Bharatanatyam artist Neha Mondal Chakravarty, who will be performing in Pune on Thursday, says the gurus have made a huge contribution to where Indian classical arts stand today globally

A post graduate from the renowned Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, Neha Mondal Chakravarty has learnt under some eminent stalwarts in the industry. Currently, based in Singapore, Chakravarty  is a company performer and faculty member at Apsaras Arts Dance Company in Singapore and tours frequently with their productions.

The Bharatanatyam dancer, who is also trained in Jazz and Contemporary art forms, was a part of The Darbar Festival, one of the most celebrated festivals of Indian classical music and dance in the UK. She will be performing in Pune on Thursday evening at the invitation of the Nritayayatri Art Movement Foundation. Here, she talks about performing for non-South Asian audience and what dance pieces she has planned for Puneites. 

You were based in Malaysia for quite some time. Can you tell us something about the audience for your performances there? Are they more well-versed with Indian classical dance forms?
I was in Malaysia for four years, before I moved to Singapore in January 2018. Indian classical dance or music is a part of the cultural identity of people of Indian origin, living abroad. The artist community in Malaysia is very supportive of each other’s endeavour as it stems from the feeling of owing allegiance to their homeland. Hence they attend and support the performances and workshops organised by various art entities in Malaysia. 

The audience for Bharatanatyam is a mixed bag, comprising Bharatanatyam students from various organisations, dancers and practitioners of different genres, followers and art connoisseurs, who are the natives of Malaysia and are appreciative of the Indian art and culture, and generally like to spend their evenings watching and enjoying performing arts in general. 

Whenever you perform in India, how do audiences in different regions of the country react to your dance? 
It’s always homecoming to perform in India and I am always welcomed with the same warmth and affection by people here. An artist always wishes for a full house and a lot depends on how the event is being marketed and how the artist brands himself. But above all, I believe audience in India looks forward to what an artist has to offer more than their preconceived ideas about the artist himself. 

Can you tell us about your performance in Pune? What have you planned?
The pieces that I have chosen, delve into the various shades of nayika — as a sakhi talking about the nayika’s plea to the Lord, or a heroine of an epic (bold, intense and emotional), as one who is indifferent and puts up a facade to not be bothered by her Lord’s infidelity, and also the one whose eyes are forever searching the Lord. Playing along the emotion of love, these nayikas represent you, me and all of us who have experienced love through all its different shades. 

Can you tell us a little more about Kalakshetra style of dance and The Banyan Tree concept, for which you have collaborated with fellow artist, Aishwarya Aravind?
The banyan tree was nurtured by the founder of  Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, Rukmini Devi Arundale, who revolutionised Bharatanatyam, to the form we see it today. The artists, who once stood under the 70-year-old old banyan tree, every morning, in their years of training at Kalakshetra, are now stalwarts in their fields. 

This production recreated those memories of training, designed with the jewels from the signature choreographies of Athai (Rukmini Devi), and some reworked ideas. This is an offering to our alma mater and the banyan tree which has not ceased from providing shade to the number of artists who are training themselves incessantly under it. 

What are the principles on which Indian classical dance forms are based? There was a report which said that you danced in rain on a sidewalk in Manhattan. Would that have been acceptable to the gurus in the past?
Art is ever evolving and an artist’s journey is more internalised. The journey of classical arts from temples to stage, from being a part of religious ritual to representing India’s cultural identity globally, has not happened overnight. The gurus in the past themselves have made a huge contribution to where Indian classical arts stand today globally. The dance on the sidewalk in Manhattan, was a part of promotion of my solo dance theatre production ‘The Unheard Plea’ which was done barefooted in a dance saree, not affecting its authenticity and originality. 

As a Bharatanatyam dancer, are you also interested in learning other Indian classical and Western forms? Have the barriers been tweaked a bit?
I am trained in Jazz and Contemporary and am always looking out to learn as much as I can. The vocabulary of dance is ever expanding and Bharatanatyam has placed itself in the global map, where it includes practitioners of non-South Asian origin creating new kinetic vocabularies. Even in India, where the discipline is so deeply engraved in the identity of an artist, that he believes learning another form would compromise the quality of performance is slowly changing and dance is moving to highly innovative directions. 

ST Reader Service 
Nrityayatri Art Movement Foundation, presents ‘An Evening of Bharatanatyam’ with performances by Parshwanath Upadhye and Neha Mondal Chakravarty on Thursday, February 28, 6 pm onwards at MES Auditorium, Mayur Colony

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