Dance from the Heart

Nov 26th, 2017
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Rajendra Nyathi is an internationally acclaimed artist of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, the South Indian classical dance styles and Bollywood dances. He holds a first class Master Degree in Performing Arts and was a recipient of the Junior Research Fellowship and the National Scholarship for Outstanding Young Artists by the Government of India. He has served the prestigious role as Head of Department of Dance in some of the well-established universities in India. He has travelled extensively in Australia and New Zealand, China, the Middle East, Europe, Russia, the UK, the US, and most of Asia as a researcher, guest lecturer and performer.

Rajendra is innovative in both as a teacher and a performer. He has inspired students and audience of a diverse background and culture. His dances are soulful, expressive, full of grace, aesthetically highly appreciative. His dance is always successful in bringing out the sentiments and pure passion that arouse the deepest emotions of the audience and course inspiring students and aspirants.

Asana (“A”) interviewed Rajendra (“R”) on dance and its relationship with Yoga.

A: As a dance artist who comes from a dance family, how do you see dance as an art?

R: I see Indian classical dance in its true and real sense. Approach wise, I do not appreciate some fusions which confuse and make spectators divided with what their original impressions. The dance art should be presented as what it is meant to be without failing its basis, purpose and nature. In order to get appreciated and benefited, one should understand the nuances and beauty of the art form. As I belong to a traditional dance family, I feel I’m very clear in my thoughts and practice with the sense that India classical dance is not only an art form but also a science. These days, our dances have so much to give and share with one another internationally, as we often say the world is becoming smaller, turning into a global village. For me, my dance art is very much satisfying and fulfilling in many ways.

A: What makes Bharatanatyam so special than other forms of dance in India?

R: I think perhaps it is because Bharatanatyam, as a classical Indian dance, strictly and perfectly follows all the qualities and contents that were prescribed and described in detail over 6,000 verses in 38 chapters in the ancient language Sanskrit, clearly profounded by Sage Bharatha, in his ancient text, Natya Shastram, the classical encyclopedia on Indian theatre. It is well known as a highly stylized, disciplined and developed art compared with other forms of dance today. It has all the aspects and qualities of the ancient temple dance, yet it is very modern and fresh in its approach dealing with different abstract themes and communicating even contemporary issues in productions and performances to the whole world

A: It is believed Lord Shiva is the founder of classical dance Bharatanatyam? So is it only to be learnt by Hindus? How do you explain to your students when it comes to the religious expression of dance and the gods?

R: Yes, in fact Lord Shiva is also the founder of Yoga. According to the Hindu philosophy, it is believed that Lord Shiva, who is Parama Yogeeshwara (the Supreme Lord of Yoga), is also Natheshwara, the Divine Cosmic Dancer of the Universe. This very thought gives the expression that all the classical dances which are evolved out from temples in India are directly related to Lord Shiva and he is the embodiment of nature and existence. However, when one studies the philosophy of Shiva in depth, it is universal in nature – it gives the perfect understanding of universal oneness and co-existence of all kinds. So Bharatanatyam is not different from that. Neither is Yoga. These two forms are very much universal and like hand in hand, modern and philosophical in their own practices in the world today. When it comes to religious expression, I always teach my students that though the content is spiritual, the approach is universal and secular. This is unique to Hindu philosophy, which speaks of neither religion nor sectarian thoughts. It always speak of universal brotherliness and a perfect harmony in co-existence along with all species in the mother nature. That’s what is mentioned in ancient scriptures and texts like Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Ithihasas and Bhagavad Gita, the source on Indian art and culture. We always worship and respect the mother nature in our ritualistic performances whether it’ in the precincts of temple or on the stage for that matter in our daily lives. The purpose is to spread the love, respect, peace, harmony and to entertain the needy.

A: Is there any relationship with dance and Yoga?

R: This question is very important so I have to explain more. The relationship between dance and Yoga is inseparable and co-existing – like inhalation and exhalation. This activity, which is involuntary in nature, deals with so called Prana, the life force, which is a must for living. If one wants to live better and long, one should practise Yoga and dance as inhalation and exhalation. I believe dance is very dynamic, which demands strong physical fitness. It deals with sensitive emotions. It is spiritual in nature as it makes the dancers aware of good and evil, follows intricacies in rhythmical patterns like mathematics, calculations etc. The demand for high focus and concentration in learning and presentation is very much required and the fluid movements makes it so special in dance. In a way, it is more masculine in its nature and approach.

Whereas Yoga is soft and feminine in its nature and approach, there is no demand for seeking so called perfection as such. The practice of Yoga is to make oneself healthy, composed, vehement, seeking harmony physically, mentally and emotionally. In a way, Yoga is more an inward activity, unlike dance which is outward and performance oriented. The asanas are mostly static.

So keeping these unique qualities in spite of their differences, Yoga and dance are like male and female. Through union, life or universe comes into an existence. This very special relationship makes Yoga and dance very close to each other united.

A: What is your dance experience in Hong Kong?
R: My dance experience in Hong Kong has been very wide and fulfilling. In the beginning, I had some problem of language as Hong Kong people speak Cantonese primarily. To teach students dance to Indian music in order to bring out exact expressions or emotions was very difficult. Physically, it was tiring for them but slowly and steadily, we all overcame these odds. I have always treasured my teaching, performing and sharing. I always try my level best to teach right things and inspire them to understand and appreciate what is special and unique about Indian dance, Yoga, culture, philosophy, art etc. Most of the aspirants were very responsive and encouraging in my class as the subject is vast and interesting.

A: What do you think of Indian traditional classical dance, such as Bharatanatyam, being taught in a fitness centre or a gym as a fitness regime?
R: This is an interesting question! Because what I was teaching was classical dance and semi-classical as well, it needs lot of time to practise, perfect, digest and of course enjoy. The pain comes first and the fruit will yield later. Usually, the clients who come to fitness centres expect quick results and possibly with a preconception that they practice without too much of focus or concentration. Provided the centre makes it clear the nature of subject to be taught, hopefully classical dance would receive good response and will be popular in fitness studios or gyms.

A: Is this why you established Natya Yoga?
R: Natya Yoga is a cultural organisation engaging in and with an honest desire to serve and propagate Indian classical and other art forms to the world. I hope to inspire others to find out the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional content of dance, music and Yoga. It is a holistic and peaceful approach towards life for the better, harmonious and blissful co-existence of all the people with diverse cultures on incredible blessed planet of ours.

A: What is your advice to Bharatanatyam dance lovers?
R: My advice to Bharatanatyam dance lovers is to enjoy it whether watching or practising it. Bharatanatyam is a more promising and the most fulfilling art form. If you put your heart in it, it inspires you and will remain with you forever. Be positive always; give your time and be patient so that you enjoy fruits when they are ripened. The amount of satisfaction it provides is priceless and abundant. It shapes one’s life into a meaningful one. The great joy and blissfulness remains within you through dance and Yoga practice together.

Kelly Hui, Student of Master Rajendra in Nataraja Pose

Master Rajendra’s Contact details: email: kalaraj1@yahoo.com

 

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