My thoughts on Choreography
Choreography is my instinctive response to music, to a theme or to poetry. As a choreographer, I take my time to develop a piece. Much of my choreography, as with any creative work, happens during every moment of my day-to-day life and not only in my studio. For one to be creative, it takes constant conscious and sub-conscious thought on a particular subject. That does not happen over night! It happens through immersion, submersion and deep rumination on the subject. My choreography is such… a deeply immersed, meditative, cerebral & studied yet instinctive response… through intense engagement.
As an artist, I find inspiration in everything around me – from the animate to the inanimate, for everything has life; everything has been created. As a dancer, I am most inspired by music through which my creative juices to begin flow. I believe that music is the backbone for dance, the very foundation over which choreography can develop and that the dancer needs to fully internalize the music before being able to dance to it.
I grew up in a family where the study and practice of Indian Classical Carnatic music was given utmost importance. There was music all around me as a child; in dance class and at home with my mother and grandmother who were both proficient vocalists and vainikas (Veena players). Having heard very pure, traditional music all my life, my dance is deeply influenced by the many maestros of music who I have heard as I was growing up. Carnatic music, though for some an acquired taste, is an intellectual art form. To fully understand the subtleties and nuances of the form one must both understand the science and mathematics behind the ragas and talas, yet be sensitive to the strong emotive power of the music. Bharatanatyam as a dance form is very lucky to be steeped in such classicism in terms of music. Of the many layers that unfold in understanding Bharatantyam, the musicality of the dance is most enjoyable if one has a keen understanding of Carnatic music. As a choreographer, I find it very essential to fully understand this musicality (the intellectual and expressive) before creating its visual imagery. I work closely with my collaborators (musicians) in bringing a piece together, making my choreography a constant conversation with, as all as a response to, the music. My musicians and I work together to bring out the musicality through movement and expression through music – making it a richly aural and visual experience for both the audience and performers.
Poetry & Literature
I have always been an avid reader and this too influences my work. Many of the works I have created are a result of literature I have read and that inspired me to translate into a visual medium. Bharatanatyam as a form is flexible and open to creating varied kinds expressive work. For the purely expressive dance compositions, I like to keep the choreography skeletal – I only compose the outline of the story or poetry being expressed, giving my musicians visual cues. Much of the choreography comes alive spontaneously on stage, and it is different every time. A rather risky approach to choreography and performance, yes! Though challenging, this really helps me keep the piece spontaneous, involved and fresh each time we perform. Both my musicians and I work off of, and complement, each other during rehearsal and performance to bring the piece alive. Much of my “practice” & “choreography” of the piece off-stage happen through reading, assimilating and absorbing the poetry and essence of the literature through a process that takes a long time and evolves each time as I re-read the literature, each time discovering a new facet or stumbling on a new idea to interpret it!
Bharatanatyam as a form has always been based on interpreting Mythology and Hindu philosophy. This is primarily due to the reason that the musical backbone of the dance form is Carnatic music and Carnatic music is largely devotional in theme. My biggest challenge as a 21st century practitioner of the form is to bring alive this age old philosophy and mythology to today’s global audiences in a way that is relatable and relevant. In today’s world, where much of our lives have become rather materialistic, some amount of philosophy helps us feel grounded and keep perspective. As a person, I have always been drawn towards philosophy and spend much of my time reading books and listening to lectures on spirituality. Spirituality has greatly influenced my practice of the art and my choreography. Yet being born in an age where much of this doesn’t have much relevance to most people, as a performer and choreographer I strive to make it relevant using metaphors to bring alive complex and abstract philosophical ideas. As abstract as it may be to visually communicate philosophy, Bharatanatyam as a form is versatile enough for this purpose.
Over the years, my research and exploration of various literary works in two languages very dear to my heart, Samskritam and Telugu, has influences my choice of pieces I choose for my choreography. Telugu, considered one of the sweetest languages of India, lends itself beautifully to Carnatic music and no wonder most Carnatic composers have made it their language of choice for all their work. As a researcher, choreographer and performer, I strive to bring out the beautiful and often neglected works of several Telugu poets and scholars through my dance. My goal as an artiste is to share with the next generation of art connoisseurs the grandeur of the vast literature available in Telugu and make familiar the many rare and infrequently heard compositions in this language.
Choreography cannot be static. The overall structure perhaps may not change as much, but choreography gains more depth and matures as I practice and perform a piece over and over. My choreography evolves right alongside my evolution as a person, an artist, a thinker and a dancer. That is the most beautiful part of choreography and practice – the continuous evolution of an idea…