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


Mārgam is the traditional name given to the full-evening repertoire of Bharatanatyam. It consists of a sequence of items with varied choreographic structures such as Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Varnam, Tillana, and so forth. They are classical masterpieces, originally composed and created by the Tanjore-Quartett in the 18th C in the court of the King of Tanjore (Tanjavur), from their expertise in music, dance and the scriptures. What has come to be known as Bharatanatyam developed from this repertoire.

In the progression evident in these choreographic structures ranging from short to longer pieces with varying rhythmic und narrative patterns, one recognises a meticulous dramaturgical concept. From the performative perspective, such a progression leads one into deeper realms of feelings and sensate experiences. It is grounded in the ancient practice of performing arts, recorded in the treatise Nāṭyaśāstra that dates back to an estimated 3rd C BC. While it can thus be traced back to ancient practise, it reveals, simultaneously, an ability to change with times that is clearly inherent to the performing arts Nāṭya itself.

Historically perceived, the thus developed Mārgam-Repertoire reflects dance traditions in the temples and temple festivities, in the courts of South India, as well as, in what can be called from today’s perspective as literature salons. Then, the content of these choreographies range from deep spiritual insights to profane narratives of love and yearning, of joys and sorrows, and much more. At the same time, learning and perfecting the Mārgam-Repertoire is seen to help performers achieve an ever increasing deep expressivity. Given its word meaning – Mārgam means path – the Repertoire can become an essential path of transformation.

This fairly recent embodiment of Nāṭya continues to remain in change and transition. Having arrived on the world proscenium, Bharatanatyam is being etched on to ever new bodies, as is particularly evident in the 40-year work of Berlin-based Rajyashree Ramesh. Since 1979 the dancer, choreographer, master teacher and movement researcher has extended the practise of Bharatanatyam through her deep insights, and continued research of dance with focus also on the universal concept of Nāṭya. Rooted herein is both change and continuity. Several dancers with varied backgrounds have completed their stage training in the last three decades at her Academy for Performing Arts. Since 2011 she has continued to develop a training programme at the Global Music Academy Berlin, where students from all over the world get introduced to the transformative capacity of the Mārgam with the help of her unique movement-analytic and fascial methodology.

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