Sunday, July 17, 2011

A rolling stone that gathers moss - the full interview

A story about me came out in the New Indian Express. This is the full interview - in my words. While I'm grateful for their interest and the publicity, the printed interview was of course, edited. This here is the full email interview - it tells something more about the current me, and also gives us something to think about regarding dance journalism in India. Have a read.

1)Tell me a little about your background. Where were you born and brought up, education, family and early life.
I was born and brought up in Delhi. My father, Rajeev Bhargava - a political theorist and philosopher, mother -Tani Sandhu Bhargava - a social worker and my sister, Vanya have always encouraged my desire to dance. Though neither of my parents are in any way directly connected to dance, both are great lovers of music and dance. It’s because of their love for the arts that I was exposed to a lot of music and dance from the time I was a toddler. My sister has also encouraged my dancing and is one of my most valued critics. They have always encouraged me to look at dance critically and analytically.

I went to Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in Delhi. After that, I went to St.Stephen’s college, where I did my B.A in Philosophy. Throughout - I trained with Leela Samson. I studied Bharatanatyam with her till 2005, when she moved to Chennai. After that, I studied at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, UK and the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore I then went to Madras to work with Sadanand Menon, to help organize and initiate the Chandralekha Archives. In 2009, I did my masters in Contemporary Indian studies at Oxford University where I wrote my dissertation on the modernities within Bharatanatyam. Since then, I've been performing, reading and writing about dance and teaching dance to school children.

2) I believe you started dancing at the age of 5. How does a child at that age interpret and understand the different rhythms and movements.  
Yes, I began dancing when I was five. I can’t really remember how I interpreted or understood movement back then, but I’m told I was struck by Bharatanatyam, and in particular, with Leela Samson’s performances. From the little experience I’ve had teaching children, it seems to me that they dance with a sense of complete abandon, and with tremendous enthusiasm. Their minds are also very open and receptive. I suppose the sense of rhythm and movement develop and evolve in the body as you keep dancing, but a five year old, I think, is quite capable of understanding and appreciating movement and rhythm.

3) How did you zero in on Bharatanatyam? 
Like I said before, I grew up watching music concerts and dance performances because of my parents. I think it was when I was four that I expressed a desire to dance. So my parents took me to dance performances of various kinds, and I made the decision that I wanted to learn Bharatanatyam, after I saw Leela Samson perform. I can’t remember what was going through my mind then, but there was obviously something about her dancing that drew me to her and to Bharatanatyam.

4) With the increasing influence of the west, there has been a shift towards contemporary dances. Youngsters these days are easily excited by Ashle Lobo or Shamakh Dawars dance class but not necessarily as much with traditional dance forms of India. What are the reasons for the same in your opinion.  
I’m not sure if the increasing influence of the west is the only reason for a shift towards contemporary dance. It can be argued that a lot of Indian contemporary dance has developed here in India itself. It also depends on what we call contemporary dance. Couldn’t it be that what Balasaraswati was doing in her time was very contemporary, and now that its in the past, we call it tradition?

Moreover, it is a very common mistake to call any sort of western dance – contemporary dance. I strongly suspected that Ashley Lobo and Shyamak Dawar do not come under the contemporary category, but to confirm this – I asked a friend who’s a contemporary dancer. Ashley Lobo is a jazz dancer, and Shyamak can be classified as ‘Bollywood Jazz’. These two genres are quite distinct from ‘contemporary dance’. Salsa, Ballroom dancing and so on are also genres in their own right and do not come under ‘contemporary dance’. The contemporary dance ‘form’ is a broad name given to include dance styles such as Modern, Limon technique, Contact improvisation and so on. So it would be a mistake to club all the ‘western’ forms into one genre.

I also don’t think its true that youngsters are more interested in Shyamak Dawar than in traditional forms. After all, there are a lot of young kids still enrolled in several classical Indian dance classes. I think perhaps the marketing of some dance institutions is better than others – bigger networks, more funding, better exposure on television and so on. But I think youngsters today are interested in a whole lot of things – both “traditional” and “modern” (the two terms are deliberately within quotes).

5) How has dance evolved through the years. What are the new trends and what are people embracing today.
That’s a big, big question! As far as the evolution of dance goes, I think it has evolved immensely, and it should. Dance is not static, so its evolution is inevitable. How that has happened is a matter of great debate amongst dance scholars. I believe history, politics, and society have all played massive roles in evolving and shaping dance in India. Taking the example of Bharatanatyam – its been transforming ever since the first documentations of dance. The Devadasi system impacted it, the Tanjore Quartet modified it, Colonialism and its Victorian notions of sexuality reshaped it, post-Colonial nationalists further changed it, contemporary Bharatanatyam dancers have further experimented with it, and my generation has and will as well.

New trends…hmmm. Well, that depends entirely on the dancers. Some see themselves as carrying forward an ancient tradition, others determine their paths within the the guru-shishya parampara. Then there are others yet who are looking to western forms of dance to examine their own ‘traditions’. Bollywood dancing is another huge trend (they even teach it at some schools, I hear). There is also an increasing number of dancers who are going into a deep exploration and examination of dance forms through different mediums. There is so much happening – I’m not sure if I can identify a particular trend.

What are the people embracing today? I think its best you ask the people!

6) Dance requires tremendous amount of focus and dedication. As a young girl did you find it hard to focus. Share with me in detail about your though process say 7-8 years ago. 
That’s true. Dance does require tremendous focus and dedication. Everything you do does, right? Actually, I’m relieved to say that I didn’t find it hard to focus. Perhaps I did feel a bit left out briefly when I was 12, because my other friends were doing all sorts of things that I couldn’t do because I was going to dance classes and rehearsals, but really that feeling didn’t last long at all. Mostly, I was quite absorbed with dance. 

But my focus and dedication was different to what it is today. About 8-9 years ago, I was focused mostly on building my Bharatanatyam repertoire, and performing it. I wasn’t really theoretically engaging with it as much as I would’ve liked. I was also a member of Leela Samson’s dance company ‘Spanda’, and was absolutely thrilled to be travelling around the country and abroad with the troupe. 

Around the time of my college years, my focus started to shift to the theoretical aspects of dance. I started to question things I’d never questioned before. I started to explore other dance forms as well and wanted to re-examine and re-visit Bharatanatyam in as many ways as I could. So my focus and dedication took a different direction from then onwards. Today, I find myself at yet another crossroad linked to the last path I’d taken. I’m starting to feel ready to put the last 7-8 years of questioning and re-thinking, confusion and articulation - into practice.

7) Who has been your inspiration if any at all. 
My inspiration…there is so much that inspires people, I’m no different. I don’t think I can pinpoint one inspiration. I have been inspired by all sorts of things – people, events, paintings, poetry, music, political events, newspaper articles, performances by fellow dancers, photographs…sometimes just something I see happening in a very mundane manner moves me. Many things inspire me. I hope it always stays that way.

8) Dance is also used as therapy these days. What are the other aspects of dance that most people might not know. 
Well, I don’t know how much people know about dance, but I think a lot of people don’t know the history of their dance forms. This, I feel, can be quite problematic...because people don’t know how the dance forms came to be what they are today, what journeys they went through in their historical evolution. Without that, I don’t think one can fully appreciate or understand  any dance form.

9) What is your diet like? Do you follow a strict regime to keep your emotional sanity. 
I’m terribly averse to the word ‘diet’ because all my life, when I have heard people using that word, it has meant starving. I’ve seen dance classmates get sick because they won’t eat enough, others depriving themselves constantly or surviving on dry cereal for months on end to lose weight. ‘Diet’ has somehow become synonymous with ‘weight loss’, which in turn has become synonymous with starving. I’d hate to endorse that sort of dieting. I’m happy to say that I don’t follow any sort of strict diet. I eat everything – ‘unhealthy’ stuff too, every once in a while! But on the whole, I do try to keep a balanced diet. I’m a big foodie. Freely eating whatever I want probably helps a lot to 'keep my emotional sanity'!

10) You are very young and attractive which must mean you would be getting a lot of attention from the opposite sex. How do you handle that.
Ummm...I'd say being young is overrated. And being attractive is subjective. How one handles any attention one gets is also personal and situation-specific, isn’t it? I'm not really sure how else to answer that.

11) What are the characteristics of a complete woman and who is one according to you. 
I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘complete’ woman. If you become complete, then you’d probably be completely self- satisfied. In that situation, you’d stop feeling the need to do better –  to grow. I think that’s the worst thing that can happen to someone! If you stop feeling the need to grow, you’re at a dead end. That’s it, then. You’re done for.