Tradition personified

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 30 May 2019

Bharatanatyam dancer Navia Natarajan, who will be performing in the city today, says that she stays true to the classicism of the art form

In India, lies her roots and in the USA, she learnt to lay them more deeply and establish herself. Straddling the Eastern and Western worlds has never been easy, but Bharatanatyam dancer, Navia Natarajan, has succeeded in expanding the knowledge of her art form and presenting it in such a way that has helped her make the art form more global.

Natarajan, who will be performing in the city this evening at Horizon series programme organised by Indian Council of International Relations and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, talks about how she is looking at pushing the boundaries of the traditional form without diluting it. 

Her Performance 
The dance pieces, which she will be presenting in the city, speak volumes about her beliefs. Natarajan, who is an accomplished dancer in the Vazhavoor style of Bharatanatyam, will be presenting the traditional margam or repertoire. 

“My opening piece is on ‘devi’. I have termed it as Parashakti and in it, I have tried to juxtapose her fierce form with compassion. I am describing her beauty and virtues and at the end, I am bringing out the fierce aspect of hers. I draw that parallel with the inner demons that we all have. We need to evoke the auspicious which is the ‘devi’ in us, to destroy the evil. I have referred to Navarathna Mallika Stotram of Sri Adi Shankaracharya and Lalitopakhyana for this piece. The second piece is a 35-minute long Varnam which revolves around Shiva the Cosmic Dancer. This is the role of a dancer, a woman who is love-stricken. The third piece is a researched piece called Aamrushataka. It’s a compilation of 100 poems written by King Amaru and I have taken the 69th poem, which is about a man and a woman. How they fall in love and then drift apart. I will conclude with a Tillana,” she says.

Bridging the gap
Natrajan, who divides her time between California, USA, and Bengaluru, India, says both the countries have shaped her as a dancer. “When I lived in India, there was one particular way of thinking. In USA, there is more thrust on building a community of artists, thinking of arts in entirety. I have learnt how people think there and that has helped me package my art differently. When I performed in Aamrushataka in the USA, I explained what it meant in ways that helped me broaden my perspective. Going back and forth between Bengaluru and California, has shown me how things are changing. In India, people are now opening up, more contemporary art forms are coming in. Everybody is pondering on ways to make their art more accessible to the audience. We are talking more about creativity now,” she says. 

When asked to elaborate more about her work and stay in California, Natarajan, who is a microbiologist by education, says, “California is the melting pot. There are Hispanics, Asians, Europeans coming together. There are discussions on how to take art forward, how to collaborate and so on. I think that is a very healthy way of looking at art. Also, in USA, we have our diaspora too and they come to aid when you are having issues; they help you circumvent them.”

Natarajan acknowledges the contribution of other artists who first took Bharatanatyam abroad. “Those who went before me to the USA had a bigger task to do — they had to introduce Bharatanatyam to the people there. In my time, the audience knows what the dance form is, there are grants etc. The challenge before me is how to establish my roots there,” she adds. 

Science in art 
For the longest time, dance was a hobby for Natarajan. She only realised how important it was when she took up a position as a research assistant at Vittal Mallaya Scientific Research Foundation, when she was choreographing pieces in her mind! Natarajan decided to choose dance, but says, there is science in her art.

“In science, you analyse everything, thread bare. That helped me in my research for Aamrushataka. Science gave me the discipline. That was my takeaway from science in the field of art,” she adds.  

ST Reader Service
Bharatanatyam dancer Navia Natarajan will be performing this evening at 6.30 pm, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Sardar Mahadeo Balwant Natu Sabhagriha, opp Hotel J W Mariott, SB Road

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