Fall 2021 In Dance

my training and knowledge of mod- ern and contemporary dance forms. In India, I had completed my Bach- elor’s in English Literature, and came to SJSU for a second Bachelor’s in Dance. At SJSU, I studied Modern, Jazz, and Ballet. My years at SJSU were extremely challenging because almost everyone had grown up taking classes in these forms, whereas I hadn’t taken my first Jazz class until the age of seventeen. I was often dis- couraged by the gap between me and my peers when it came to technique but when it came to choreography,

its roots and looking at it in relation to other Indian Contemporary artists. When I was a child, I held a piece of dance history in my hands—my grandmother’s diary from her time at the Uday Shankar Dance Cen- ter in Almora, a town in the state of Uttarakhand, India. My grand- mother attended “The Center” as she called it in 1945. I grew up lis- tening to her stories about Shankar, looking through photographs of her in various costumes and of Shankar in rehearsal with his dance troupe. I vividly remember her talking about a piece based on machinery; in my imagination the work consisted of bodies forming enormous struc- tures and moving parts in physically impossible ways. Uday Shankar pioneered an idiom of movement in the 1930s that he called Creative Dance. It was devised from different dance forms includ- ing Indian classical and folk dance forms, like Bharatnatyam, Katha- kali, and Manipuri, and Western forms like ballet and expressionist dance. Shankar was the brother of the famous sitar virtuoso Ravi Shan- kar, who danced in his brother’s dance troupe for a few years before he began his study of music. Inspired by painting, sculpture, music, poetry, photography, and theater, Uday brought together various aesthetic sensibilities from the East and the West, collaborating with artists, including the ballerina Anna Pav- lova. Despite or perhaps because of the fact that Uday was not formally trained in any particular dance form, he is widely recognized as the father of Indian Contemporary Dance. My own dance training mirrors the eclecticism of Shankar’s choreo- graphic practice. It began during my childhood in India where I spent time practicing yoga with my grandmother, learning dances for weddings and cultural events, and dabbling in different classi- cal and folk dance forms, including Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and Bihu.

When I approached Nair about it, he said I would have to learn Chhau. So I started training in Mayur- bhanj Chhau with his guru, Guru J.J. Sai Babu at the Natya Ballet Centre in New Delhi, where I also began to study Kathak with Guru Geetanjali Lal. Unlike Chhau, Kathak has a very upright posture with intricate wrist movements, fast rhythmic footwork as well as chakkars where one turns on the heel of the foot. I did get to assist in the creation of an all-women work soon after. In the meantime, I applied to study in the US to deepen

My formal dance training began with Jazz with Ashley Lobo at The Dance- worx in New Delhi, during my col- lege years. I was drawn to the staccato movements, leg extensions, pop music, and discipline required of the form. After four years of Jazz training, I went to study Indian Contempo- rary Dance with Santosh Nair who had been a part of Narendra Shar- ma’s modern Indian dance com- pany. Sharma himself had origi- nally been part of Shankar’s dance troupe. Nair’s background was in Kathakali and Mayurbhanj Chauu, a dance form that incorporates ele- ments of martial arts and move- ments inspired by nature and daily life. For instance, there are move- ments informed by the parting of hair, applying a tika to the forehead, and washing dishes, as well as the movements of water and the walk of a stork. It is a powerful dance form: the basic posture is a deep plié-like position called chauk. With Nair, I had to find a sort of fluidity in my torso and a more grounded posture that was in contrast to my Jazz training. His choreography drew heavily on Mayurbhanj Chhau, consisting of asymmetrical postures, held balances, and quick floor work, and demanding a certain athleticism. His choreography developed organ- ically through improvisation and movement tasks assigned to the danc- ers, and explored abstract themes as well as Hindu mythological stories. I hoped to perform with Nair’s company, but the gender gap seemed an obstacle. The company was male-dominated, and the men, who were deeply trained in Mayurbhanj Chhau, had a better grasp of Nair’s style and were thereby given featured roles. As a woman, my roles were limited; I recall handing the men their swords while they performed a dynamic Chhau segment in one par- ticular work. I craved an all-women work with the sort of dynamic chore- ography Nair choreographed for the men. I also wanted more stage time.

BY ISHIKA SETH TRACING roots drew me to it. After teaching, perform- ing, and choreographing with the com- A Perspective on Indian Contemporary Dance

I CAME TO THE US from India in 2003 to attain my BA in Dance from San Jose State University. Hoping to pursue a career in dance in the US, I approached Mona Khan Company, a Bollywood Dance company, upon grad- uation for teaching opportunities. I had never studied Bollywood Dance but the familiarity of the music and the culture

pany for several years, I went on to become the Assistant Artistic Director and continued in that position for over a decade. Now, as I restart my journey as an independent artist, I am trying to articulate what my style of Indian Con- temporary Dance looks like by tracing


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FALL 2021 in dance 27




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