Since the day I started learning dance, every corner I turn, Gurus, dancers everyone talked about Riyaz. Practice Infinite Tatkars and number of Chakkars, hundreds of Todas and their variations till you are fully soaked with your perspiration. This routine was for five days a week for three hours. This was considered a guaranteed key to be a good dancer. In support of this practice, we had a theory to learn, that is to do Shlokas of Abhinaya Darpan by heart. All the Mudras and Bhedas and so on. Sage Bharat and Acharya Nandikeshvar analysed Angika Abhinaya to the fullest. As I progressed in dance, and performed quite a bit, I heard and also experienced that dance is really subtle, spiritual and body movements are secondary. As I learned more Abhinaya I was fully convinced of this notion.
After learning dance for a good number of years, When I came to USA everywhere I turn Yoga, Modern Dance, Ballet – all of them were rooted in gross level – body, muscles. All over – terminology was – muscles, joints, bones, stretching, body planes, body tension, anatomy and so on. The Abhinaya, feeling and subtler aspects were almost none in teaching. There was a broader aspect of mood, i.e. which movement or total body posture will convey certain mood but nowhere close to the rich science of Indian art of Abhinaya. The two worlds looked quite contrasting!
Years passed struggling to understand the contrast of two cultures. I was shocked how a spiritual discipline like Yoga is minimized to a physical level by Westerners? Same way the dance, according to Indian concept – a vehicle leading to liberation – is minimized to an exercise? The Choreography is only the combination and permutation of their Movement Motifs and I saw an absence of any subtle aspect, going beyond Physicality. I found full absence of the entire field of Abhinaya! Characterization, role playing, then Rasa is so far !!
More years passed, I had more interaction and experience with global arts, exposure to various forms of vocal, instrumental music, concerts, access of the world music through YouTube. I saw that the dancers like Martha Graham, Cunningham expressed universally through their every truthful movement. Opera singer Renee Fleming gives me goose bumps even I do not understand a single word of Italian. None of them have to be Indian and studying Shastras! It is evident that language of Truth needs no interpretation. It is universal.
So today in my modified view:
I believe though the goal of any art is universal communication or spiritual at the same time one has to access physical level to reach spiritual. Whichever the medium of Art is, Vocal, Dance, Instrumental or any other one has to know the physical medium first, the technique. In dancer’s case, they have to work with preparing the instrument – the body and make it danceable. That is why author of Natya Shastra sage Bharat has spent full 6 chapters on Angika Abhinaya analyzing the movements of various limbs to make the body danceable.
My work on Anatomy of Kathak, I believe is also a product born out of interaction of two cultures where each movement is analyzed to show which Anga – muscles or body parts, in which sequence are executed to carry out a movement – the details of physical aspects and what feeling it should convey when mind is aware of those muscles – the subtler aspect. Thus body and mind both work together, no one can do without other! If body says I contain you, imprison you, you are not even seen, so I am the Boss. The Mind says but though it is true I peek through every pore of you. So decide for yourself who is the Boss?