1. Tell us something about your early years and what fascinated you about Bharatnatyam?
I am from Borivali, Mumbai, and Currently in the USA. My parents (Sharad – an artist: creative director & Asavari Bhalerao – homemaker by choice) knew for a fact that the intricacy of all sciences is art, and from an early age I was encouraged to pursue a career in Arts. Having aspired at their young age to pursue some form of fine arts, they were very happy to find out that I had an aptitude for dance and I started learning Bharatnatyam from the age of five. My very first stage experience was playing the role of an ant in the famous dance drama “Durga Zhali Gauri” of the theatre group Avishkar. Doordarshan filmed this dance drama in late 1980s. This was a very unique experience for me at such an early age because not only did it introduce me to perform on stage, perform in front of a live audience in a group of hundred but also introduced me to my guru Dr. Sandhya Purecha. I really cannot thank god enough for giving me the guidance of Sandhya Tai. She is an extraordinary dancer, a very unique teacher.
Her passion for Bharatnatyam is contagious. As a child I would spend hours, sometimes days at the dance class learning sanskrit shlokas from the texts like Natya Shastra, Abhinay Darpan e.t.c. Some texts and verses I could understand, as for others I struggle to find meaning even today. Sandhya Tai's teachings coupled with the visits to Acharya Parvati Kumar (Sandhya Tai's guru or Guruji) gave me a very holistic learning experience.
After securing the CCRT (Center for Cultural Resources and Training) Scholarship while I was in school Guruji said, “You have been given a herculean task and you have to accomplish it with great responsibility.” I remember this conversation with the late Guruji very vividly even today.
To speak about Bharatnatyam, I feel that it is a highly evolved and a very rich dance form. I feel really fortunate to have been placed in the ever so fluid Tanjavur style of Bharatnatyam under the guidance of such eminent gurus. The amount of work, the never ending research that has been put in by my guru and her guru to retain the originality and the freshness of the dance form is awe inspiring.
Just recently, after performing in the United States someone approached me and said, “your dance is so effortless and flowing... there is something so graceful about it. I have not seen anyone perform Bharatnatyam like this before, it seems like some version of yoga.”
The praises for my art that I have received are due to the endless amount of work that has been put in by Sandhya Tai and Guruji. They have researched the ancient texts and treatises and have passed the valuable knowledge to the next generation. Guruji is very well known for his research of Abhinay Darpan, which is a 10th century text on dance. And equally well known is Sandhya Tai for her presentation in audio visual of the same. I was fortunate to learn part of the text from Guruji himself amongst a selected few and then in 2008, Sandhya Tai generously launched a production Guru Dakshina where I performed Abhinay Darpan with her.
I feel that performing a text is always difficult and has taken me to the very depth of understanding Bharatnatyam. This is because while performing a text set to music, every gesture is a separate entity and the dancer really has to strive to emote that meaning to the audience.
2. What was your training like? Share a few details.
The description of my training is incomplete without the mention of Sandhya Tai. She is very strict at times and does not tolerate any mischief when a tutoring session is in progress. She also adheres to the asthetics of dance and gives all students the liberty to explore the vast expanse of sentiments that form the basis of Abhinaya.
It is always motivating to see that your guru is not complacent, but still hungry for knowledge. Not only does she research and teach about the valuable ancient texts, but also teaches her students the subjects like the philosophy of dance, angikabhinaya, Bharatnatyam and other dance forms.
She is a strong exponent of Bharatnatyam but has given her students freedom to learn other dance forms like Chau for instance.
Her way of teaching is not at all theoretical, but a singular blend of theory, presentations, demonstrations and one on one sessions. I am fortunate to have assisted her in various lecture demonstrations at many places in India. It is because of this broad outlook towards all forms of dance that Sandhya Tai has imbibed within me I could talk to veteran ballet and modern dancers in the United States and explain to them the very basis of Bharatnatyam and at times see the parallels between dance forms.
3. You are also a documentary Filmmaker and photographer by profession. What are the parallels in Bharatnatyam and Filmmaking, or are the fields totally different?
I really do not perceive Filmmaking and Bharatnatyam as something totally different. They are just different ways of looking at the same thing. Dance is a highly timed, rhythmic way of utilizing space while Filmmaking and Videography is something that involves capturing those timed movements, that utilization of space and make it more appealing What differs are the subjects.
If you look at the history, dance, theatre, folk stories originated to entertain and inform people. Filmmaking is a modern day version of theatre, of folklores and the primary duty is to inform and educate people. So according to me, filmmaking and dance are very much parallel to each other in a way. As a environment & social Documentary filmmaker, I have travelled to several places and worked on many award winning projects in India as well as the United States. This has made me more open and more adaptive to new people and ideas, which ultimately reflected it in my dance, directly or indirectly.
Filmmaking and Bharatnatyam are impressionistic in their own way, each encouraging the artist to explore beyond the art.
I have produced some short pieces/ stories to integrate both my skills. The recent one was I produced with some stock footage I had from other projects, a tribute to late Guruji and screened at an event the Ministry of Culture had organized in his honor. https://vimeo.com/55757682
4. What are your future goals?
After completing my MFA in Bharatanatyam from Bharat College of Fine Arts, I came to the USA and got my MA in Film and video from American University in Washington, D.C.
Currently, I am producing a documentary on Sea- Turtle conservation in Costa- Rica called Pura Vida: Pure Life?, and my next will be a film on dance in India, which is in pre- production at this time.
I had opportunity to give Master classes or lecture demonstrations at Universities here as well as perform. Recently, I was accepted as a member of UNESCO's International dance council, It brings together the most important international, national and local organizations, as well as select individuals active in dance, which I see as a huge opportunity for performances and presentations and to reach out to people. My recent performances at ISKCON in the USA were extremely well received by the audiences. I see myself following the footsteps of my Gurus, carrying on the legacy in my own little way through performances, training and most important of all, research.
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Intereted to know more , you can contact puja
who is a Independent media Professional, Exponent of Bharatanatyam
Member of International dance council, UNESCO