I want to create sensitive dance artists not just performers, says Geeta Chandran

 I want to create sensitive dance artists not just performers, says Geeta Chandran

Vidushi Geeta Chandran is synonymous with Bharatanatyam the classical dance that she has practised for decades since her journey began at the age of five under the tutelage of her first Guru Swarna Saraswati who hailed from the traditional Daasi Parampara. Since then, her dance voyage has embraced intense learning under several stalwart gurus. Yet, Geeta has imprinted Bharatanatyam with her unique personality where delicate shades of abhinaya are offset by extremely challenging nritta sequences. Her vast knowledge and training of Carnatic music further imbues her dance with a unique flavour.

A widely feted artist and star-performer, Geeta uses her deep skills in Bharatanatyam as ‘force multiplier’ for the widest range of classical dance issues that have engaged her focus: Exploring linkages between body and mind, forging relationships between solo dancing, group dancing and choreography, actualising the connects between the artist and society, and using dance as a medium for expressing abstract notions of joy, beauty, values, aspirations, myth and spirituality.
Parallelly, Geeta has created a unique format of performance-dialogue in which she raises contemporary issues through her classical performances. Previous works like Her Voice and Imagining Peace raised issues of the meaninglessness of violence. Kaikeyi spoke about stigma and villainisation. Mythologies Retold addressed the issue of female foeticide. In Anekanta, she highlighted the Indian Constitution’s vision of an inclusive society and Gandhi: Wrap and Weft was a reminder of Gandhian values and choices. Simhika: Daughter of the forest highlighted the need for justice and rights for forest tribal community while Jayatu Bharatam celebrated 75 years of India’s Independence.
Dancer-Choreographer Geeta Chandra is also the Founder-President of Natya Vriksha, the cultural organisation that she founded and established in 1991 in New Delhi as a leading centre for training in Bharatanatyam in its most composite form. As a prominent guru who is imparting invaluable classical dance knowledge to future generations, Geeta’s inspired contribution to Bharatanatyam’s teaching/learning pedagogy steeped in both tradition and modernity is widely acknowledged as a contemporary milestone in dance theory.
In her mission En-Dance the Universe she engages in a strategic range of dance related activities like performing, teaching, conducting, singing, collaborating, organising prestigious dance festivals and seminars, writing, and motivating a wide variety of youth audiences. Her book So Many Journeys captures these different dimensions of her dance engagements.
Recently, in a unique gesture, senior disciples of Geeta Chandran published a tribute book entitled The A to Z + of Geeta Chandran, highlighting her unique teaching learning pedagogy. I spoke to the super excited dance guru about the same:

Your students came together to publish a book on your teaching pedagogy how does it feel?
I was most surprised, since they had all conspired to keep this a secret from me, and everything was done behind my back! It was an unusual gesture since usually teachers and Gurus are celebrated only when they pass away! Only then does social media get flooded with emojis and teary memories. So, I truly felt honoured that my students – both past and current, felt enough to pen a volume of what skills and values my teaching them had generated. So, I feel very humbled by their tribute.

How you think your teaching has impacted the lives of your students?
My process of teaching is not output oriented, but input oriented. I want to fill the students’ minds and creative brain with experiences of all kinds – visual stimulus, myth and story narrations and their true meaning in today’s context, of social values of justice and equity, of inclusion. The adavus and Bharatanatyam movements only come as part of this larger package. I am more interested in creating sensitive dance artists rather than mere performers. Consequently, this is not a two-minute dip-dip dance experience. Its gestation period is long and is built on a different pedagogy altogether. So, the book records how different individuals have reacted to that process.

You have authored a book before, why is this one so special?
My book So Many Journeys was published in 2005, the scenario for knowledge sharing moved to electronic platforms and social media. My communication with Gen-Next is through those channels now. But I agree that these alternate means of reaching out are more difficult to aggregate in terms of legacy. Books do that eminently. That is why, I feel this book of chapters on experiences of my students and their families becomes significant.

Please share more about Natya Vriksha, your dance institute.
Natya Vriksha is a foolish dream that began in 1991 with six students. Foolish because artists are not administratively trained to run institutions and manage finances. Yet, this tree of dance has survived, and some may say has even flourished. But to me small remains beautiful. I don’t want to outsource franchises, etc. It’s a Gurukul, a unique way of teaching where the relationships built are far more important than the number of performances chalked.

Guru Geeta Chandran holding a class  

What is next in line for you?
Coming up is the new edition of Natya Vriksha’s World Dance Day (April 29) extravaganza. This will be the 16th edition of this festival with an interesting workshop on the values of the Natya Shastra, a session on yoga and dance, a seminar on integrating arts in formal education and a prestigious young dancers’ fest that is extremely popular. So, my energies during these weeks are fully geared to making a resounding success of that. Watch for it soon this year.

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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