Oct 012011
 

Kaberi dancing, age 7

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1915 (from The Gardener – poem 45)

When I was a child of 3, before I started to take dance lessons, my dancing was just an expression of happiness. I didn’t necessarily understand the meaning of the lyrics but I would dance to the rhythm of the music.

Gradually, as I grew older and developed my dancing skills, as well as my understanding of the lyrics, I started to express the meaning of the songs in my dancing. This was helped considerably by the compulsory dance classes at my school (Patha Bhavana, Santiniketan) from the age of 6.

Pure dance without expression is also possible. To distinguish it from expressionist dance, Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra gave it the name ‘nritto‘. According to this treatise, nritto was born much later than expressionist dance (nritya).

There are some forms of art which can stand alone, without containing any expression. These include designs (alpona), musical scales (taan) and dance steps (such as adavus in Bharatanatyam).

Apart from being mainly a poet, Tagore was also a musician. He had learned Indian classical music since childhood. However, he never liked pure classical music without expression.

So, when setting his words to music to create songs, he didn’t apply the pure classical ragas directly but adapted them in his own way to bring out the expression of his lyrics.

Similarly, in the case of dance, Tagore preferred expressionist dance to pure dance steps. In this case, perhaps he followed the same line of thinking as Bharat Muni. Bharat Muni put more emphasis on nritya than on nritto, probably because he wanted to use nritya as a medium for drama.

In novels, poetry and plays, the author’s main role is to express his or her thinking in the form of words. This type of art typically combines art and expression to form the message of the author.

Tagore had always enjoyed drama and plays. His main objective was to find ways of expressing his poetry better. Having first used music to achieve this, he felt that the medium of dance could be used to enhance the expression of his songs. His final artistic achievement, in the last decade of his life, was to combine the three dimensions of songs, drama and dance in his dance-dramas, Chandalika (1933), Chitrangada (1936) and Shyama (1939).

Sep 202011
 

Poupée (Tagore’s adopted grand-daughter, aged 2.5) tries to speak to me with the whole of her body. Meeting me on the boat, she expressed her delight in the form of a dance of her own design. As she danced, her speech was through her whole body. “Life is sweet”, she wanted to say. “The world is beautiful.” But having as yet no language of words, her small mind, stirred to its depths, broke out into a complex movement of dance. Her whole body moved as if to music.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1924

Dance is born from the expression of our emotions through movements and turns of our bodies. The more spontaneous and heightened the emotions are, the more inspired the dance is. This was what Tagore realised from observing Poupée’s excitement at meeting him.

For centuries, indigenous peoples have been displaying their state of mind by waving their hands and legs, and moving their bodies. Since ancient times, dance has evolved along two paths.

One path has been through folk dances at community festivals and social events. The other has been through the inclusion of dance as a part of religious festivals, such as dances to pray that the harvest would be fruitful. Even today, tribal people continue both these dance traditions, from wedding celebrations to religious festivals.

In more recent times, as populations grew and people migrated from villages to towns and cities, ‘urban culture’ developed and community life became more orderly. In this new environment, dance started to develop in a different way. During this period, the main occasions for dancing became events associated with religious celebrations. This was the case, for example, in Misr (Egypt) and Greece.

In India, Bharatanatyam is the oldest dance style to have developed as a result of this ‘urban culture’. During its early development, it was used for worship in Hindu temples. The dancers were referred to as devadasis (literally, ‘servants of the deity’). They danced to entertain the deity.

Other Indian classical dances also had similar religious origins. However, in modern times, these classical dances have become less and less closely associated with religion. The closeness of the association often depends on the dance style. For example, Kathakali is not part of religious festivals and is mainly performed to entertain people, while Manipuri remains completely associated with religion and based on Vaishnavism.

Tagore did not perceive dance in a narrow way. To him, it was a way of enhancing acting: “The best actors will always be those who have been trained to use the whole body as a tool for the expression of thought, of emotion or of sentiment. Words, to convey the full perfection of their message, must be accompanied by the appropriate bodily movement.”

Tagore’s thinking about dance is very prominent in my mind at the moment as I am in the middle of proof-reading my book Tagore Dance . To receive a free, text-only PDF file of its Introduction by e-mail, click on the ‘Download now’ button below, enter your e-mail address and click on ‘Submit’.

 Posted by at 10:46 pm
Sep 112011
 

Kaberi

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.
Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.
Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;
I forgot that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest.
Through birth and death, in this world or in others,
wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same, the one companion of my endless life
who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.
When one knows thee, then alone there is none, then no door is shut.
Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose
the bliss of the touch of the One in the play of the many.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1911

That is exactly how I feel as I sit down to write my first ever blog post. It is only possible for a great poet like Rabindranath (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913) to explain it in this way. It is amazing how Rabindranath managed to express the different feelings of human life.

Rabindranath has had a major influence on my life. Very often I look to his words to express my feelings.

I grew up in his home town of Santiniketan – “the abode of peace.” My grandfather Shibdas Roy joined the school set up by Rabindranath in Santiniketan. He was a very good singer and a musician. Thanks to his singing, he was one of Rabindranath’s favourite students. He became an honorary teacher at the China Bhavan, teaching English to Tibetan monks.

Later on, my father also joined Rabindranath’s school.

Years later still, it was my grandfather who took me along and enrolled me in Rabindranath’s school. I was lucky enough to grow up in such a wonderful, artistic and open air environment.

From time to time, I feel like sharing different things with those around me with similar interests. That’s why I decided to start this blog.

People often ask me about Tagore dance, Manipuri dance, our Tagore dance film trilogy, Indian cooking and my Indian dance workout. However, I don’t usually have the opportunity to give a complete answer. I hope my blog will provide at least more of the answer.

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