Seeking a Renaissance in San Francisco
“Traditions Engaged is a major, historic festival spanning two of the U.S.’ most prominent cities in premiere venues. Featuring leading Indian classical dancers and musicians and more than sixty artists over six days. Dozens of exciting and insightful daytime performances. 18 major performers in the evening.” — CDDC
In preparation for the Traditions Engaged (TE) festival coming up on October 1-3, I will be introducing the various Indian Classical Dance forms every week, with a brief profile on the art form, a TE artist spotlight, and a schedule of upcoming festival performances. This week’s topic will be Bharatanatyam.
Bharatanatyam is one of the ancient classical dance forms of India. The name is said to be derived from Bha – Bhava (Expression), Ra – Raga (Melody), and Ta – Tala (Rhythm). The Dance, or Natyam, that combines Bhava, Raga, and Tala, is known as Bharatanatyam. The dance form can find its roots in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The ancient art form was originally performed by Devadasis, girls who were “married” to temple deities and were essentially sold into prostitution at a young age.
The study of Bharatanatyam, the steps, the expressions, and the compositions were codified by four brothers from Tanjore known as the Tanjore Quartet. The modern form of Bharatanatyam as we know it today was galvanized by Rukmini Devi in the 1930s. She was one of the first educated women to learn Bharatnatyam from the legendary Balasaraswati (a Devadasi herself). Rukmini Devi established the famous dance school Kalakshetra in 1936, formalizing the art form and breaking it from its previous connotations.
Bharatanatyam became a more devotional artform, utilizing Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (hand and leg gestures), and Natya (story telling). The dance is built with over 150 basic steps known as Adavus, over 300 hand gestures known as Mudras, over 20 head, neck & eye movements known as Bhedas, and over 100 transitionary poses known as Karanas. Dance compositions in Bharatanatyam mainly depict Hindu deities and have a spiritual significance. The dance form has moved past it’s courtesan roots and has became one of the most widely practiced Indian dance forms in the world.