Dhirana Movement

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Falling in love with Indian dance and its evolution with Indira Kadambi – Part 1 of 2

indirakka1It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to connect with the esteemed, elegant and gracious Bharatanatyam exponent –  Indira Kadambi.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, she is an outstanding performer, choreographer and teacher having received her Bharatanatyam training from Smt. Usha Datar, Natyavisharada Narmada and Padmabhusan Smt.Kalanidhi Narayanan. She had her training in Mohiniattam in Kerala under Smt Kalyanikuttiamma and Carnatic Vocal music from Shri.Belakwadi Srinivasa Iyengar.  For her valuable contribution to the art field, Indira has been honored with Natya Shantala Award from Karnataka Aryabhatta Cultural Association and Outstanding Senior Dancer Award from Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai. She is an empanelled artist of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Government of India. She has traveled widely in India and in UK, USA, Germany, France, Holland, Austria, and Malaysia.

Indira akka co-founded and currently teaches through  e-Ambalam – an online learning platform for the comprehensive learning of Bharatanatyam, Karnatic music and Yoga.

We enjoy interviews and Q&A’s because we get to ask questions of seasoned professionals that help us grow in our own knowledge and understanding.  But it is also an opportunity for the artists to share in their own words.

We LOVED hearing from Indira akka and below is PART 1 of a fantastic Q&A,we had with her around the dance, its evolution and its future trajectory.

The dance spaces both in India and the U.S. are transforming tremendously.  We just read about a Bharatanatyam Flash Mob in Chennai, and dancers experimenting with performances in public spaces including yourself in this article.  What are your thoughts on this transformation and the way that the learning and performing of Indian Classical Dance is evolving?

indiraakka2Every art form has a base – folk /classical. There has been a myth that classical art forms are only understood and appreciated by elite class. It is wrong. We need to take the art form to the common man. Make him aware of the grandeur of the art in its purest form.

Art is evolving constantly based on one’s needs, thoughts, spaces, culture, etc., It can’t be static. It has to be dynamic. The way the dance was performed few decades back is completely different from the way we perform now with respect to compositions, style, costumes, spaces, etc., Creativity depends on each individual. It is one’s expressions conveyed using different mediums at different venues. There is nothing right or wrong about it. There is lot more awareness with respect to one’s body, content, movements and space. Art is like a river. It keeps flowing. It has to keep flowing in order to be nurtured and preserved.

During yesteryears, student would learn from one Guru and try to remain within the framework of the Bhani or Style, even if there were several shortcomings in the style. Today, classical dancers are more informed and incorporate learning’s from different teachers in the performance, in an attempt to make it wholesome.

Even with respect to learning, Guru – Shishya Parampara is slowly transforming into eParampara with advancement in technology. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Many students who did not know about Bharatanatyam, who did not have access to good dance teachers and those who could not afford to travel regularly to India to learn can now have easy access to all of these through Internet medium. Virtual classes are in! So, traditional Guru-Shishya learning methodology and online learning methodology co-exist in a harmonious way.

Today’s dancers are resourceful and harness opportunities at their disposal in attending classes / workshops by other teachers. With Online Education in Dance, pioneered by eAmbalam, becoming a reality, several dancers are using the Internet and superior lesson plans to supplement their existing knowledge and learn newer aspects hitherto not explored by them, like Abhinaya and Nattuvangam.

You have talked about always maintaining the integrity and foundations of Bharatanatyam in your workshops?  Can this be done while also experimenting?  How do you strike the balance?

Every art form has a structure; one could use this structure to write their own stories or dance to traditional compositions. indiraakka3Experiments are welcome. But in the name of experimenting, one need not lose the classicism. One need not bring down their level of performance to make the audience understand instead they need to elevate the audience. They need to create a right balance in execution. One could still create, choreograph and experiment within aesthetic boundaries – this exemplifies a True Artist. We can’t dance to Bollywood songs and call it Bharatanatyam or use classical song and do filmy dance and call it Bharatanatyam. Using the language of Bharatanatyam, you could write wonderful stories – whether traditional or contemporary.

Tell us a little bit about your experience teaching students dance and music from all over the world remotely through E-Ambalam? How do you ensure quality and corrections remotely?

We are passionate about teaching. We see ourselves breathing life and watching individuals bloom – a teacher is driven by the efforts of the students. The students validate our existence. Born out of this bond is eAmbalam’s KALPAVRIKSHA, the world’s first online College of Arts, teaching Bharatanatyam and Carnatic vocal with yoga.

Quality starts right from the content that is authentic, credible and steeped in tradition in keeping the purity of classicalism. Eminent artists, scholars, and musicologists design course material. Our dance panelists are Padmabhushan Prof. C.V.Chandrashekar, Padmabhushan Kalanidhi Narayan, Savitri Jagannath Rao, Prof. Raghuram, and Music Panelists are Padmabhushan Sri. P.S. Narayanaswamy and Prof. Ramanathan.

Since the teaching medium is primarily through videos, we had to make sure that every step in the learning process had to be recorded thoroughly. Along with practical lessons, we also have General and Applied theory to enhance the student’s understanding of the art. We provide Notations, lyrics and meanings, PDF’s, Thala table, glossary, phonetics, Shruti and Audio downloads for references.

High quality content is taught in a brilliant way using technology. Blended e-learning is our USP. Students not only have 24X7 access to learning videos but they also meet the teacher once a week one-to-one to get their doubts cleared and to improve their learning. They also send their videos to the faculty, take assessments for further evaluation.

We promote integral and holistic approach to performing arts. Every Music student will have to learn Yoga, and every Dance student will have to learn Yoga and Carnatic vocal in the curriculum. Ours is a student centric approach with an eco-system of a very active community and online resources to supplement learning through our Art Community portal “SaMaaGaMa”. Both comprise of very comprehensive data researched and collated by top scholars in respective fields. Apart from these, online students are also welcome to our Chennai base to have an experience of on ground learning.

We have students from USA, Europe, Australia, Dubai, Canada, Bangalore and Chennai too! They are all very happy with the content and flexibility of learning at their own time in their own pace. They are excited to do assessments and meet us online for corrections. They are quite punctual for classes even during their travel. There is lot of bonding that happens between students and teachers. It is a virtual family growing up together under KALPAVRIKSHA.

Lookout for PART 2, where she shares her views on the differences between students in India and abroad, some lovely stories and her rather adventurous hobbies outside of dance!

You can learn more about E-ambalam here. (more info to come in Part 2)

And this is a LONG post but we leave you with a beautiful youtube clip of an Ashtapadi Indira akka performed. Enjoy! 🙂


dhirana5 • May 2, 2014

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