April 29 is International Dance Day, a day that strives to encourage participation and education in dance through events and festivals held all over the world. Sowgandhika Krishnan tells us more about some of the internationally-renowned dance forms and how they have taken shape over the years.

As an Indian artist living in Europe, I have been fascinated by the dance forms offered here, especially ballet.

Ballet is said to be the starting point for all other western forms that originated, seemingly, in order to move away from the rigorous technique and pattern that Ballet followed. These forms included: free dance, modern dance and contemporary dance.

Free dance explored the idea of barefoot dancing, free-flowing costumes, natural movement and expression, themes from Greece and oriental cultures, and experimented with stage lighting.

Photo of Matteks interpretation of 'Julia & Romeo' at the Kungliga Operan, Stockholm in 2017, photo by Maryam Barari

Modern dance chose to break away by emphasising on the use of the centre of the body instead of the limbs, use of the dance floor by the dancer as well as on breathing and movement. Its contributors completely revolutionised the way dance was perceived.

Contemporary dance combined modern dance and the elements of classical ballet as well as non-western dance cultures. Most dancers of these forms have generally received formal training in ballet combined with training in their respective forms.

Photo of Tripti Abhijatha performing an Odissi dance in Zurich However, what is most interesting is the connect ballet has to its Indian counterpart – the Indian classical dance forms. Both are similar in terms of years of training and discipline that go into the learning of the form. The classical ballets like Swan lake have choreography very similar to the dance dramas of the Indian classical dance forms with the use of mime and hand gestures to explain a story. There is a striking similarity between Ballet and Bharatanatyam in the way the upper half of the body is held in both forms, as well as the similarity in the half sitting and sitting postures – ‘plié’ and ‘grand plié’ known as ‘aramandi’ and ‘muzhumandi’ in Bharatanatyam.

While ballet started as an aristocratic entertainment and was essentially performed in the courts, the Indian classical dance forms originated in the temples and were performed by temple dancers or ‘Devadasis’. Both still manage to hold their own in a world where a lot of popular entertainment reigns supreme. Both have come a long way.

The reworking of a classic story and adding new elements in terms of music, choreography, costumes or setting an old story in a current day scenario, are changes that we see happening in both forms. There is also a trend to go back to the old – with recreations of the old classics by researching old patterns of choreography as we saw in Zurich last year with the recreated Swan lake production.

Be it any dance form, we as artists live in exciting and tough times – tough because we compete with a lot of popular entertainment and short attention spans; exciting because of the possibilities to explore new ideas, experiment with presentation and choreography and, most importantly, make the art relevant in this day and date to a viewer so that he/she takes back with him/her not just the artistic aspects – but also thoughts to contemplate on.

To all my fellow dancers and fellow artists worldwide Happy International Dance day and let’s make our art count.

Image Details and Credits

Cover picture: ‘Swan Lake’, photo by Carlos Quezada. Swan lake production performed at Opernhaus, Zurich.
Pic 2: Dipti Abhilasha at an Odissi performance, photo by Tripti Abhijatha
Pic 3: Matt Eks interpretation of  ‘Julia & Romeo’ at the Kungliga Operan, Stockholm in 2017, photo by Maryam Barari

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