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सहकारिता: Artistic collaborations and partnerships

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”  Helen Keller

How true! As artists we often don’t realize the power of collaborations. Intrinsically we are social animals and hence the biggest commendation an artist,actually anyone, can receive is appreciation from the audience/peers/critics/seniors. While working with another artist a meeting of minds is essential. Firstly one needs to come up with a concept that works for both artists. If they are dancers, then dance styles need to be accommodated within the framework of ideas. With musicians the canvas is larger. The next step is the all important music for the collaboration. It has to fit the structure of the dance and is more challenging if recorded music is to be used.

And next comes the rehearsals, planning, costumes designing and venue. Individual commitments, lifestyles and pressures often pose challenges to coordinate practice and brainstorming sessions. I have often noticed how a few dancers get together, hurriedly choreograph for a popular song and with scant practice put it up on stage. The results speak for themselves….

Is just individually dancing two different styles bring forth a ‘fusion’? One would think that bringing different styles together would be a challenge given that the individual features and beauty of each form has to be preserved thus giving a distinct flavor in a potpourri!

So here’s to more interaction, laughter, knowledge sharing and lifetime experiences!

The song is ended, but the melody lingers on..Neila mami

“I have to live if I want to be remembered.” ― Suzanne Young

And live she did! Smt. Neila Sathyalingam, an alumnus of Kalakshetra Chennai had an eventful life filled with highs and lows while in Sri Lanka before eventually moving to Singapore. An accomplished dancer, choreographer and teacher, it was no surprise that Singapore celebrated her.

Known affectionately as Neila mami, she was a friend, philosopher and guide to many who crossed her path. Often teachers have the ability to transform our lives and help guide us through tough times. That’s when they become Gurus. How does one deal with such a monumental loss? One can’t. Memories often make it devilishly difficult as everyday routines remind us of wonderful souls that have moved on. For artists, their Gurus are usually good friends, confidantes and advisers. It is true of any medium where knowledge is shared and passed on. While I might not have known Neila mami very well personally, a brief interaction often hints at the underlying warmth.

I will not presume to speak of her more intimately than her closest circle of students who have benefited greatly by just being around her nor will I ever be able to comprehend the loss they feel now. Each student will feel the deep connection personally that none other can fathom. And it shall remain so.

She contributed to the Singapore art scene like no other. She faced hardships as she brought art to new lands. She has trained a dynamic group that understands her vision. What more can one ask for? Perhaps many more years with her…..

Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.
Rabindranath Tagore

நடன நிலைம (Nadana Nilaima)-dancer’s inertia

“Nothing happens until something moves.” Albert Einstein
My mother used to wait for me at the gate to come home from school. No it wasn’t because of the day long separation from her daughter. It was to prevent her dear daughter from playing truant! As a child I gave maximum heartache and worry to my ever loving parents (my brother joined in too!). I would give the most feeble excuses to miss class, not practice and laze around. My parents made sure I went to classes regularly and worked hard to make sure I had the best opportunities.
I was interested in so many things in school that I was always running late after school. Be it sports, dramatics or the girl scouts I was in everything! The seriousness and dedication required for an artist was but a dormant kernel within me. And this is not an isolated incident. Many youngsters with great inherent potential often find it hard to juggle multiple interests and are further impeded by sheer inertia. Reluctance to go to classes is a common refrain I hear form many parents. However through the passage of time the sheer beauty of the art finally awakened an insatiable urge to learn and promote this art form. This isn’t unique to dancers though. The inertia to get up and get going can be manifested in any art form or academic pursuit. However it takes but a spark to light the fire!
Its tough to wake up and go for early morning practices or rush to the late evening ones from colleges and work but eventually the interest erases any vestiges of inertia allowing the lazy novice to blossom into a dedicated dancer!
So lets move and shake off that inertia for its just the world waiting to be conquered!

जीर्यत्- aging and dancing

“The soul never ages. My soul dances without my feet. I am the music” Alav Oguz

As I head towards teaching my adult class, I’m reminded of the number of times I had to leave my worries and responsibilities at the door of my dance class and stepping into a world of swirls, jumps, stamps and imagination!

While we lose ourselves in daily chores, kids and work its important to make some time for things that we are interested in but either couldn’t learn or couldn’t pursue. Perhaps it was unenthusiastic parents, economic constraints, constant relocation or just the lack of a teacher in the vicinity. While the causation might be diverse the outcome remains one- a lost opportunity to learn the arts.

But not all is lost! Yes the constraints get a lot tougher, with children pursuing their
own interests and perhaps older family members requiring more personal time. What is however heartening is that I see more women take up interests and passions once their kids become more independent. Naturally this is facilitated by the hectic academic and social life of their children leaving little time for collective activities and a shift in interests and priorities of various family members. What was heartening when I walked into my adult bharatanatyam class was the presence of so many women who had no previous knowledge of classical dances but sheer enthusiasm and interest had brought them to my class. No pretensions, no expectations just a motivation to achieve something they couldn’t do yesterday.

Yes you can if you can work around those crazy schedules.

Yes you can if you decide to dedicate that hour to your passions.

Yes you can if you take care of your fitness wedged in between meals and chores.

Yes you can…runs through my mind as we drape our dance saris and wear a big smile.The class has begun!

பயிற்சி-practicing your way to perfection

“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you don’t get it wrong”

Bharatanatyam is hard. Period. The limbs hurt and sweat runs. Nobody will dispute that. In order to attain perfection one has to work hard. There is no way around it. For dancers, it is a challenging road with many hurdles along the way. This rigorous path pays dividends when the dancer steps on stage with her colorful costume, dazzling jewelry and a beautiful smile.

But it’s not just practicing hard-its practicing smart. Not just the dancers but their warm up regimes are unique! Each body requires a different exercise regime and diet. Building up stamina is easier said than done. Days of hard practice followed by nights of massaging sore spots are still fresh in my memory. So why do you dance then? The sheer joy of connecting mentally with what you are dancing wipes away any pain and the sheer beauty of the dance form erases unpleasant memories while building stamina.

“Is warm up really necessary? I just ran to my practice session from my work. Doesn’t that count?”. The answer- NO. If only that was sufficient for us dancers! It is imperative to loosen and warm up the muscles that will bear the brunt of rigorous sarukkals, soaring pakka adavus or the sprightly kuditha mettadavus. The damage done to our body is quite extensive if precautions are not undertaken earlier. Taking just a few minutes to help those joints and muscles will go a long way in allowing you to enjoy a fabulous art form!

Keep calm and do a stretch!

 

Ashta avataram – The multi tasking dancer

The objectives and aims should  always be fixed high,Even if not achieved, those  thoughts should not be changed. (Thirukurral 596)

உள்ளுவது எல்லாம் உயர்யு உள்ளல் மற்றது
தள்ளினும் தள்ளாமை நீர்த்து.

Given that I have varied interests, allocating time for them is often an interesting if not quite daunting task. Yes I love being busy and if nothing else I watch other performances by other dancers. Of course I am committed to these interests and make sure I do justice to them. And its tough!

The situation is no different for the young students who are constantly balancing academics and the arts. While having an eye on their test schedules, these young minds have to also focus their concentration on their practice schedules! For some it is fulfilling a parent’s desire/ request. For others it is something they actually develop an interest in early on and it is a voluntary effort. For the first group….hang in there! It only gets better with time. Your mind and your body tunes into the positive effects of learning the arts and who knows you might find your calling in any of the related arts.

An often fatalistic view that I have heard is that, since dance in particular bharatanatyam, might not be pursued at a later stage, why spend so much effort and time on it now? To them I only say that art has a meaning and a purpose and it communicates something from the artist. Let’s pay heed and enjoy what wonders it brings forth!