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Reflections

This page will bring current ideas and experiences to reflect upon.


Natya - The Performing Arts of India

Though there are many interpretations for movement and expression in India, grounded in regional movement and aesthetic preferences, performing arts in general look back upon a common yet diverse tradition that evolved over millennia given the rich history of India, well documented in the Natyasastra. This treatise compiled around the 3rd C BC amazes not only with its historic implications but also insight into embodiment when approached from a current research perspective. It describes an all-inclusive practice incorporating dance, drama, song, instrumental accompaniment, text, speech and more. What are defined today as regional classical styles reveal these factors to varying degrees, depending upon the emphasis given to art in various periods. Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi for e.g. are defined as South Indian classical styles, whereby Kuchipudi developed as a dance theatre form in Eastern Coastal India to narrate stories of the divine and dates back to the 13th C. It shows parallels in form to older styles such as Odissi from the neighbouring region in the North. What is practiced today as Bharatanatyam on the other hand developed in the 18th C courts of Tanjavur in S.India and reflects a rich repertoire of dances performed formerly in temples, courts and festive processions. It is the more linear version and perhaps the most progressive of Indian styles today, bringing forth a wide range of contemporary interpretations. Nevertheless, these styles though rooted in their content and context in history, which in the end effect determine their form, share movement principles - also with practices from other parts of the world ranging from Balinese Dance and Flamenco to Western Ballet and Modern. In as much the form itself, seen in these styles and defined in ancient treatises like Natyasastra (3rd C BC) and Abhinayadarpana (11th C AD), reveals universal movement principles. At the same time when analyzed using current theories from diverse research areas the practiced tradition exposes a core which is all about the fine chiseling of movement in its various manifestations ranging from expression of emotions to a negotiating of spatial relationships of the body in three-dimensional space. It is this implicit inherent understanding, which needs to be explored by artists working in a global set-up where we are today talking about multiple identities and 'modernities'.

Based on my experience of many decades of working in Europe, the challenge that non-European practices face is however the constantly imposed ethno-exotic, spiritual-esoteric and/or folklore label. The classicism of Indian dance does not deny these factors, but the practiced living tradition should be understood as going beyond these categorizations. Having said this, it deems important today more than ever, to move forward and beyond outdated perspectives about movement 'traditions', not by overthrowing existing practices but by exploring what these have in store from perspectives that do not deny the past and yet create a future by shaping the present as we continue to redefine our identities in a world whose nature is change. It is this world view which feeds off and into movement practices - even in India. In other words it means we need to nurture these practices and take from them that what enriches our lives today. Considering that classical dance as practiced today can be understood as the fine chiseling of movement in its various universal functions, essentially negotiating between form and content, however as expression of emotions (abhinaya), spatial relationships of the three-dimensionality of the body (nritta) and a rich musical tradition (raga/tala), its vocabulary can be applied to all movement, theatre and music relevant practices, useful for laymen and professionals alike. Exploring such a vocabulary with a movement analytic emphasis is therefore the focus of the classes taught at the Academy.

Rajyashree Ramesh

 

Rajyashree Ramesh, klassischer indischer Tanz