The language of dance is a unique amalgamation of symbols and expressions manifested through body gestures. It takes a lot of dedicated passion and fusion of mind and body to absorb this language. Dancers take immense pride in sharing this unique language with the viewers and establish secure communication in the process. A deep sense of rhythm is required to master the art seamlessly and do away with all kinds of superficialities that there can be. Finding a vocabulary that is deep rooted to one’s own practice but at the same time is fresh and suits one’s body precisely. This is exactly what Bharatnatyam dancer Nilava Sen and Kathak dancer Shyam Duttani performed through their show Damaru at the recently held Serendipity Arts Festival. I spoke with Kolkatta based Nilava Sen about his dancing journey, who has received Uday Shankar award and also ‘Nalanda Nritya Nipuna’ award, excerpts from the interview;

Tell me about your dance background and journey?
I am a Bharatanatyam dancer and also a Uday Shankar technique dancer, a newbie choreographer in my respective style, and a teacher who loves to share his experience with anyone who is in love with dance. My journey with dance basically started a long back in my early childhood before my formal training began. It was my grandmother with whom I had spent most of my early childhood. And she was the one who noticed the presence of dance in my body first. On those days – when I was around 3 or 4 years old – My grandmother used to show me all the shows on television and I used to try my best to imitate. So I guess, it was really my first steps towards my journey. Recently my mother told me a story that in my childhood how tensed they were as parents because I was unable to speak properly and I used to stammer a lot but when I was 6 years old, I was able to choreograph a full-fledged dance piece on Rabindranath Tagore’s song. So I guess, since then, dance became my way of communication, it was my language of expression. Afterwards when I turned 10 years old, my parents took me to Tanusree Shankar Dance Academy to learn Uday Shankar technique of dance and that is how my formal training started under the tutelage of my guru Smt Tanusree Shankar. In 2018 when I was already learning Bharatanatyam, I met my another guru Smt Rama Vaidyanathan in a workshop and I was in complete wonder of her dance, her brilliant artistry. Later on that year I started learning personally from her in New Delhi. I look towards my life as a journey of learning experiences and I am sure, life will never stop mesmerising me or teaching me!

How did the concept of Damaru come about?
This work was co-commissioned by Serendipity arts festival, New Delhi and Sampad Arts, Birmingham. The founder of Sampad Arts, Piali Ray, as she initiated the project, she actually came up with this topic and later on we worked on the topic as a challenge, from the scratch, like researching and finding values on this topic that we connect. So I guess, that’s how we get into this concept.

Why did you choose to present Damaru in a contemporary style and not in your trained classical form?
The idea of this project itself was to find a third language of dance in our body. When Shyam, a Kathak exponent from UK and I as practitioner of Uday Shankar technique and Bharatanatyam, came together, we tried to find a vocabulary that is deep rooted to our own practice but at the same time it’s fresh and suits on both of our body precisely. So let’s say it say clearly, it was an experiment on the vocabulary also rather creating the work on our trained styles, anyway we believed that our training would reflect through it.

Who all were a part of Damaru and where all you have you been travelling with the show?
Let me start with dance collaborator – Shyam Duttani who is a UK based Kathak dancer-choreographer. Our music collaborator is contemporary-classical duo Shadow and Light by Anindo Bose and Pavithra Chari. Light for this project is designed by Gyan Dev Singh. And the mentor for the project are none other than Morag Deyes and Tanusree Shankar. So needless to say, I feel extremely blessed that I have got the opportunity to work with such an amazing team of artistes. The show first premiered in Serendipity arts festival and was followed by its premiere in Kolkata, then we moved to Mumbai too, now we are gearing up to tour with this work in the UK.

What are your future plans for your dance?
I think, Future is such a difficult word to explain. I can talk about today and today what I am thinking. And I am sure what I am thinking today will embark upon my future steps. Today I am manifesting more work like this that challenges me and pushes me to create something beyond my comfort zone and to create something that I could have never thought about in my past. Delicately I want to express the nuances of my life through dance. So I am sure, all my future work will reflect what I believe today!

Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacific University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder,
a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three
National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award
by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]


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