Who are you?: Nartana Premachandra, President of Dances of India
What brought you to practice classical Indian dance?: My parents started the company in 1976. They had absolutely no idea that in 2017 Dances of India would be celebrating its 40th Season. (They didn’t count 1976 as they did not have a performance that year.) I’ve learned classical Indian dance all my life, as I was my mom’s first student. She learned dance in India for years. My dad, who passed away two years ago, was a research scientist but loved the art as well and was the huge force within the company.
You’ve told me before that the style of dance you practice is like a kind of yoga. Can you talk more about that? Bharata Natyam—the style of classical Indian dance we perform—is most definitely considered a yoga. There are poses the dance shares with yoga, along with some similar mudras. But in my personal opinion, I feel the absolute concentration you need for Bharata Natyam—the necessity to be in the moment, to not be even one second ahead of or behind the drumbeat, for example—is what elevates it to a type of yoga. It is a very intellectual and deeply spiritual art form, in fact.
I’ve noticed lots of shapes in Classical Indian Dance that are like yoga asana – specifically poses like pigeon, dancer’s pose… do these shapes have any specific meaning within the storytelling of dance? They might — it depends on the pose and the context of the dance in which the pose is formed.
What might students and teachers of yoga learn from Classical Indian Dance? I think what sets Bharata Natyam–and other classical Indian styles–apart from Western styles of dance is how fundamentally spiritual and philosophical they are. You can certainly perform a classical Indian dance which is pure movement and has no meaning, or you can perform a dance which has a story that has no spiritual meaning at all, but generally speaking the dance is deeply meaningful. Sometimes that meaning is hard to translate to a Western —or even Indian!—audience. But we–Dances of India—do have decades of experience in translating dances for a non-Indian audience.
Yoga students can also learn the many stories of Hinduism through classical Indian dance. The dance has its roots in a text that’s over 2000 years old. One of the main functions of the dance was to bring alive stories of gods and goddesses to a largely illiterate audience. It’s really amazing—when you dance, you can bring an ancient story to life, and all of a sudden…time vanishes, and a 2,000 year old tale is new once more!
Anything else you’d like to share? I’m a writer as well, and write and narrate original scripts for our dance productions. This year we are presenting Devi of the Ashes–Cinderella in India. We tell the Cinderella tale based in India—but with loads of Indian twists and turns. As our productions are entirely narrated, it’s easy to follow them. We will also present traditional Indian classical dance pieces, have guest artists from India, New York, and the University of Kansas-Lawrence…it’ll be a fun, educational show! It’s in November–the 17th-18th–you can get the details from our site, listed below.
How can people find out more about you and your dance school? It’s easy! Just visit our website or call us at (314)-997-0911. Asha Prem is the Artistic Director of the company. If you’d like to take a couple of classes, try it out, give us a call! You can also visit my website to learn more about me.
Check out Dances of India’s 40th Anniversary Celebration this November 17th and 18th!