Through a Dancer’s Eyes

As part of Parramasala, the Australian festival of South Asian Arts, held between 4th – 8th November, in Parramatta, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the heart of western Sydney, masterclasses were organized by Western Sydney Dance Action (WSDA).

Here, the veteran artistes who participated in the festival, shared their knowledge and experience with students and art lovers.

Being a Bharatanatyam dancer I was naturally drawn to attend the masterclass by Australia’s senior dance artiste Anandavalli, presented along with Carnatic vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan and pianist Anil Srinivasan from India. I was also curious to experience some Tap Dancing and participated in the masterclass by well-known American tapper Jason Samuels Smith.

Prior to the classes, Anandavalli, Anil Srinivasan and Gurucharan had presented ‘A Million Eyes’, a collaborative work themed on the role of the woman across the ages and drawing from classical Indian poetry. And tapper Smith had teamed up with senior Kathak artiste Pandit Chitresh Das for a beautiful showcase blending Tap and Kathak.

With ‘Madirakshi’ and ‘Maya’ being my favorite music albums since the past few years, I looked forward for the artistic interaction with the two amazing musicians featured in the albums – Anil and Gurucharan. It was for their lilting music, as featured in the albums, that Anandavalli had choreographed her dance presentation for ‘A Million Eyes’. So, the masterclass bounced off from this collaborative work.

At the masterclass, after a brief introduction on the theme of the show they had presented, the three artistes led the participants through a musical and dance experience that was so unique – traditional, yet contemporary. The participants – dancers from various backgrounds ranging from classical Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and Chinese to Indian classical, each one had a chance to visualize and interpret the music of piano and Carnatic vocal in their own imaginative ways.

In the first session of the class, we had to visualize and form images in our mind, as we listened and reacted to the blend of Carnatic vocal with the background of piano. It was interesting to hear and share so many different visualizations that each participant came up with. Following this, one idea was taken and represented through dance by Anandavalli as she guided the participants to try out as well.

In the next session, the first line of the song ‘Payyada’, one of the compositions from the album ‘Madirakshi’ and presented in ‘A Million eyes’ was taken up, and Anandavalli portrayed her interpretation through dance. Her abhinaya showed the expertise of a matured artiste here…With the meaning explained, the participants now had to visualize in their own ways of how they would interpret it, in their artistic styles. It was again interesting to see so many different ways of portraying the emotion of sadness, where a woman laments, when her lover walks away from her…

The depth of the music felt through the soulful rendering of the song by Gurucharan, with the lilting strains from the piano by Anil which seemed to maintain the ‘sthayi bhava’ of the composition, transported us from Connect Studios, to a whole new world of imagination…And it was an experience to cherish…

At the Tap master-class at Riverside Theatres, the participants were again from different backgrounds of dancing and different levels of training. For me, it was all new and exciting, with completely no experience of tapping before! And Smith proved he was an Emmy-Award winning artiste as he led us so effortlessly into the art of Tap Dancing from the basics to some complicated routines. We were immersed in the rhythm and the sounds of tapping, with most of the participants being students and professional tappers, as Smith led the group.

At the interactive session after the class, Smith also had a lot to offer from his rich experience – how he started out as an artiste, early days of following a disciplined approach, the inspiration from legendary Tap artistes, the role of music in Tap, choreography and the learning experience that You-tube videos on Tap could offer students these days…

Thanks to WSDA, dance students and professional artistes of Sydney, had a beautiful experience of interacting and learning from accomplished artistes, who so gracefully shared all that they had to offer us through their art…

Aruna Gandhimathinathan is a Bharatanatyam artiste and Founder-Director of Silambam-Sydney, School of Indian Traditional Dance and offers Bharatanatyam classes in Liverpool. For more info:

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