From learning dance, music and theatre through ‘Bal Kathak’ at the age of 4 to being awarded ‘the Ambassador of Kathak’ at the House of Lords, Pali Chandra’s journey has been unique.
Pali Chandra started learning dance through creative visualisation used in ‘Bal Kathak’ at 4 years of age and started structured training in Kathak at the age of ten. Her first source of inspiration was her schoolteacher, who introduced her to all kinds of dance forms, starting with folk forms. Later her Guru, Vikram Singhe, an established professional and director of Sangeet Natak Academy Kathak Kendra, taught her the dance form formally.
She recalls an incident while learning a portion from the ’Meghadutam’ (cloud messenger), a 5th century Kalidasa classic. ’Meghadutam’ speaks of the cloud as a messenger who takes a love message from a lover to the beloved and makes his journey through hills, valleys, flower fields, cornfields. Guru Vikram Singhe’s technique and portrayal of the cloud messenger left her mesmerised. The ability of a dancer to don multiple roles without any props or anything else and convey so much made her realise that creating art from nothing through dance was her calling in life.
Taking the Global Stage
By the age of 23, Pali Chandra was already dancing at festivals, competitions, shows, and training herself as a choreographer in Singapore and New York, and performing as a solo artist. At 24, she moved to London and started performing globally. She worked with the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, London, to draft a syllabus to educate people who wanted to learn dance as formal education. In 2005, she moved to Dubai and established ‘Gurukul Dubai’. She now had teachers, vocalists, musicians (tabla players and sarangi players), tailors (for costuming shows), and composers joining her at ‘Gurukul Dubai’.
‘Gurukul Dubai’ soon became the biggest center in the UAE. Here, dance was taught under a board with syllabi that came from the UK. In 2013, Pali moved to Switzerland. She started residency programs for dance professionals and senior dance students who came with specific projects in mind and started to work with her on composing, choreography and finishing of these projects. She also hosted the Swiss International Kathak festival last year to collaborate with Kathak dancers from all over the world. The second festival this year (2020) was an online one, but included dancers from other genres who used the same rhythm patterns as in Kathak. This year, the festival focused on various subjects like dance for mental health, how dance can help beat Parkinson’s, and expressing issues like domestic violence using the medium of dance.
On this journey, along came collaborative work with other dance styles such as those with a flamenco artist on a strong passionate piece on how mothers feel about their motherland; with a Bharatanatyam artist in the UK on celebrating the differences in both styles and focusing on women and their Shakti (energy); and with contemporary dancers. These collaborations have helped her learn more about her dance form and other forms; such as the way contemporary dancers use ‘Anga’ (the body in entirety) as compared to Kathak dancers who use ‘Pratyanga’ (minor limbs) and facial expression.
The mark of a true artist
So what in her opinion, is the most important quality of an artist? Intellect, she says. As an artist, one is skilled in the art but knowing how to say what you wish to say in a way that is simple and is understood by your audience, using cues from your audience (in live shows) to create a conversation with them through your art is most important. Spontaneity in performance is something she cherishes – ‘Upaj’ (creating spontaneously) when it comes to technique and ‘Sanchari’ (spontaneous expansion of a storyline) when it comes to ‘Abhinaya’ (facial expressions).
The dancer in me is curious to know how she works on a new concept/choreography. Her answer: research, research, research! She draws inspiration from issues, pieces of poetry, emotions, a cause, or a talk she has heard and researches these ideas. She then passes on the idea to her team for further research. She spends four months a year in researching the concepts – the essence, the history, the sociology, psychology, and the philosophy behind these themes. Then comes getting the right artist who can pull off the choreography and then, the choreography.
So how does a senior artist like Pali Chandra see the new crop of dancers? She is inspired and moved by their work and intellect. She finds them well informed and doing a lot of collaborative work. But sometimes, with the amount of information overload some dancers are unable to sift gold from the dust. Her tip for them is to feel free to ask questions and get direction.
Bridging the Old and the New
Pali Chandra sees herself as a bridge between the old and the new. Having learnt in an old school traditional format, and now teaching the traditional art using contemporary methods, she believes the future of dance learning is digital. Her body of work in Kathak has revolved around verbalizing the technique of dance movement and archiving it. She realised that a lot of material and information was not easily accessible, so she helped verbalize the dance movements through Learn Kathak online and the ’Gurukul’ centres.
She approached senior artists and masters and shared their artform through ‘NatyaSutra Online’. The masters take the viewer through the entire process – the technique, the lyrics, its meaning, the expressions, demonstrations, etc. Her focus for the future is on training dance teachers who would, in turn, help spread the art form. She also plans to work on bringing back poetries from the 3rd, and 4th-century masterpieces, and adapting them to connect the old with the present day.
Be it the ‘Ambassador of Kathak’ award given to her at the House of Lords, or a business award for being a dance entrepreneur and creating an ecosystem of jobs around dance, she wears them lightly. In her words, the one and only important lesson she has learnt is, “Any classical dance form is not your piece of jewelry. It belongs to society. You may adorn yourself with it for the society, you may adorn society with it, but you cannot hoard it. It is for the people. The lesson I have learnt is to take the dance form to the people, and make it accessible to everyone, especially people in remote areas, where they may not have classical dance schools.” The passion Pali Chandra has for the art is very evident, but most touching and inspiring is the vision for the art form.
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