My own dance form is bharata natyam, the classical dance of South India. It has a certain kind of reputation in the West, as being a ‘traditional’ art form, with an ancient history, and links to the past rather than the present. I don’t see it that way: it is a relatively modern form, with a concert history of hardly 50 years. The attempts to ‘authenticate’ the dance form by stressing the dubious connection between what one sees on stage today with anything that may or may not have happened two thousand years ago is only successful with those who know little about the dance form or its historical context.
I have been involved in the practice, performance, and teaching of Bharata Natyam for more than thirty years now. Three influences intersect in my work: the clean lines of the Kalashetra style, the emphasis on footwork of the Pandanallur school as taught by Guru Nana Kasar, and the intensity of emotional portrayal that I learned from the great abhinaya teacher Kalanidhi Narayan. My interest in folk and ritual forms of dance theatre from South India and the Kerala martial art form kalarippayatu are inspiration for my own choreography, which explores contemporary ideas and aesthetics.
I began performing my own choreography in 1987, with “The King and the Corpse”, which involved bharatanatyam, the spoken word, modern dance and kathakali, and was performed in Toronto. Since then, I have concentrated on presenting new choreographic work, always involving collaboration with other artists and other art forms. I worked with Ray Langenbach, a video and installation artist, to create “The Incongruity of Counterparts” , (performed in Bombay and Singapore 1996-97) about gender and race as imaginary constructs. My collaboration with Phillip Zarrilli, noted theatre director and researcher on kathakali and kalarippayatu resulted in “Walking Naked” about the life and poetry of saint-poet Mahadevi Akka. I used Tamil and Bollywood cinema in “Night” and “The Seven Deadly Sins” in which an installation (by M. Natesh) of seven television sets showed cinema songs representing the ‘sins’ as a counterpoint to Brecht’s interpretation of them.
My most recent choreography, “A Flowering Tree” is inspired by Tantric texts and rituals. I have choreographed and performed in “Dancing Within Walls” in Manchester, England, for Rani Moorthy. I have performed in major cities in Europe, America and India, including London, New York, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Toronto, Tokyo, New Delhi, Bombay, and Madras. My new choreographic work has been supported by the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, the Goethe Institute, the Singapore Arts Council, and the Japan Foundation.