Geo Legorreta, April 22, 2017
1 –Stage creativity
2 – Woman
4 – Indian dance in my life
3 – Origins of the dance
5 – Ardhanareswari or the bisexual being
6 – Transformation into Mohini
1 – STAGE CREATIVITY
Creation is a natural part of the human being and has been expressed in our world with striking richness and diversity of languages. When artists seek a way to voice and transmit the complexity of their inner world… the need for expression and creation arises. In the case of feminine creation, we know that this energetic action has manifested ––not always easily, freely or with approval–– in various art forms. Although we are focusing here on women and stage creation, the latter generally involves a process of research and setup that is eventually presented on a stage, with lighting, in multimedia, music, etc.
2 - WOMAN
Passion for creating is a crucial element in any type of discipline – because it provides the fire of enthusiasm and intention. Especially for woman, who in her body, as a mother, is the creator and giver of life, although her physical, emotional and mental energies are fluctuating and depend on hormonal and lunar cycles and on many other factors….
Creation becomes the means through which she ––the creative woman–– can not only liberate an infinite number of aspects of her being, but also move, convey, voice and communicate to the world the enigma and the richness of feminine reality. By experiencing various aspects of her being as a woman, she has the advantage of being able also to speak of the existence of women, their issues, their stories, their dreams and their magic.
3 – ORIGINS OF THE DANCE AND THE DEVADASIS
Indian classical dances come from a tradition rooted in ritual since the Xth century in the temples of Southern India; the legacy of the ‘Devadasis’ or servers of the gods also existed across the country for nearly two centuries. In Maharastra they were known as ‘Muralis’, and in Orissa, as ‘Maharis’.
There is a legend of the beautiful Urvashi, one of the ‘Apsaras’ or celestial dancers of the court of the god Indra. It is said that she was born on Earth as a Devadasi and that she later imparted the divine knowledge of dance onto the human beings, although the first to receive this art were the Devadasis of the temples. The relationship between dance and religion and the worship of deities was the foundation on which the structure of the Devadasis’ system was built. Devadasis were taught to read and write and before their adolescence they also received an intense training in dance and music by the ‘Natuvanars’ or expert dance teachers. When they reached maturity, they were ceremonially wedded to the deity of the sanctuary by being donned a symbolic necklace.
We see, then, that these dances were born within an extremely devotional context that is closely linked to Indian asceticism, which includes people like the ‘Sadhus’, who leave everything behind, abandon their material possessions, credentials and jobs – in order to live frugally in a spiritual quest.
By the second half of the XXth century, the sociocultural context began to change in India, and with the arrival of the British government, the tradition of the Devadasis suffered a decline: the dancers lost their reputation when they left the protected container of the temples and they also ceased to receive patronage for their support. They began to earn their living in social spheres and in the courts.
Another important change in the XXth century was that some exponents of the classical dances like: Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar and Chandralekha, among others, began to travel to the West and to other countries, bringing out of India the creativity and energy, the force and the beauty of this age-old tradition. The dances began to appear in other cultural contexts such as theater stages and other spaces. Furthermore, Western artists like Alice Rahon, Octavio Paz, Valentine Penrose, Pina Bausch, and others traveled to and approached India and discovered its way of life, its arts and culture, its classical dances, its music and literature, architecture, sculpture and painting.
With the Independence from Great Britain in 1947, those dance “Gurus” (teachers belonging to a lineage) that still existed decided to meet in order to restore and dignify the dances of India. For this task they based themselves both in their memory and on the ancient treatise “Natya Shastra”.
4 – INDIAN DANCE IN MY LIFE
As for my own experience, since the day when I first discovered Indian Dance in London, along with its origins in a sacred, ritual environment, it became a form of personal exploration and expression. The training and discipline of classical Indian dances are rigorous, slow and demanding, yet they also enrich all those who practice them. They stem from an orthodox ancestral culture…. For me, they have also been a source of great possibilities, discoveries, learnings and transformations.
Mohiniyattam and Kathakali ––two of the seven classical Indian dance styles that are native of Kerala, a state located in southern India–– have accompanied me for more than 35 years. Prominent elements in the dances of Kerala are the movements of the torso, elegance, harmony and, above all, the expression of the face and the arms.
I was initiated in these dance forms in London, England, at the Academy of Indian Dance and subsequently I traveled to Kerala.
I was in India on three occasions, during which I was able to continue to learn the dance, as well as feel and experience the culture directly. Through the years, I have witnessed the tireless stage creations of teachers and choreographers in India, England and Mexico. Although these art forms are highly coded in their own style, there is always room for the expression of the creative potential of the inner world of each performer or creator. This is to say that in the classical dance the dancer represents the Devadasi (of whom I spoke before), a Heroine, and other mythological characters, through items of the traditional repertoire or through creative choreographies.
But at the same time, the dancer re-creates herself in a fresh manner every time she dances to the music that accompanies her, connecting with her emotions in the present moment and with an awareness that uplifts her as well as those who witness her dance. By uplifting I refer to a transformation of energy beyond the mundane heaviness of the human being subject to suffering, in which one con look outward ––or within–– and expand one’s awareness.
Dance in India is intimately integrated with the musical aspect; this contributes to raise both the dancer and those who receive her dance and rhythm to the inner realms.
4 - ARDHANARESWARI or THE BISEXUAL BEING
As we look into the Indian philosophical belief in bisexualism within every human being, known as “Ardhanareswari”, we find the image of Shiva Shakti, the male and female deity within the same body. For centuries, philosophers and thinkers of both sexes have questioned the meaning of this ancestral symbol. In the West, the notion and the myth of the Androgynos suggests an inner conflict of identity.
The legend of the origin of Mohiniyattam tells of how the god Vishnu ––preserver of the universe–– manifests in the feminine form of Mohini, a beautiful, charming woman who in several Puranic stories succeeds in defeating Asuras or Demons. We see then that, from the origin of this dance, bisexualism is apparent.
I feel and have discovered that in Indian dance both energies play an essential role in the stage creation of the dancer. Although Mohiniyattam belongs to the category of the ‘Lasya’ or feminine/soft dances, the performer also embodies and uses ‘Tandava’, the masculine strength and precision of Shiva’s energy. And in the Kathakali dance drama, the dancer/actor must also resort to the gentleness of facial expression and gestures and to round movements in order to balance the energy of his character. There is a very subtle line between the masculine and the feminine when one creates on the stage; gentleness and strength complement each other all the time.
5 - TRANSFORMATION INTO MOHINI
The profundity inherent in Indian dance requires indeed a transformation and entails the responsibility of an ancestral transmission. In the case of Mohiniyattam, the woman becomes ‘the divine enchantress’.
Woman, when she dances, is still a devotee who surrenders her art to the deities or to the Supreme Being by conveying her irresistible, seductive feminine charm. By this I mean that she offers herself and her inner process: her feelings and imagination, her longings and challenges, her body and effort, her beauty and energy.
This takes place in three stages:
- A) Initially, with her training by the guru or teacher, who is the channel of the lineage, i.e. the knowledge of art that was transmitted verbally by her own teacher, and so on and so forth.
- B) Subsequently, as a performer who creates the ritual every time she appears on the stage.
- C) Finally, as a teacher who transmits her knowledge and essence of the dance to her students.
In order for this to happen, she goes through the elements of a training of the body and the expressions within the aesthetics of the style, as a preparation physically, mentally and emotionally to be able to dance on stage. This takes between 8 to 10 years.
- A) First, the woman trains her body physically and mentally and gradually comes to embody the technique of Mohiniyattam. She strengthens her legs, which will be the base on which her torso will flow smoothly with the undulations, swaying and rotations that remind us of how the wind makes the trees and the palms dance, how the water of the rivers flows, etc. Thus, Mohini is inspired in and learns from the movements of nature.
- B) The dancer also trains in rhythmic footwork; her feet beat various patterns and at various speeds dictated by the musical composition and by the percussions of the orchestra.
- C) Indian classical dance being a form of ‘dance-drama’, the dancer also trains in ‘abhinaya’ – acting or facial expression in order to be able to transmit to the audience the emotions and moods that appear in the stories and legends of Indian mythology. Embodying the deities and their attributes, as well as the emotions that they produce in human beings, her eyes will be the windows of the soul and will take the spectator on a journey through various emotional states. At this stage, the dancer also learns the gesture language of the 24 mudras (or hand gestures) and their symbology.
- Eventually, when the woman and dancer is ready, she embodies the spirit of Mohini and transforms into her in order to be reborn in every performance. This is a ritual act where the main emotional tone or ‘Rasa’ is that of love, beauty or ‘Sringaram’.
- Externally this transformation can only happen when the woman is internally ready. It is achieved, by following the conventions of make-up, hairdressing, costume and jewelry, which transform her in the character Mohini: an elegant, feminine and charming woman, who, as I explained above, is an incarnation of the god Vishnu, who enchants by dancing with a gentle, irresistible sensuality. The loving serenity of Mohini seduces evil, and thus she safeguards once and again the welfare and destiny of the world.
To conclude this brief presentation, I would like to mention that Indian dance has an enormous choreographic potential. The aesthetic diversity of Indian dance has been an inspiration for many artists, and personally, since I began teaching Mohiniyattam, I have been greatly interested in the creative possibilities of dances accompanied by Indian-Fusion music by excellent, inspiring performers like Sheila Chandra (England) and Prem Joshua (Germany).
This has brought freshness to Mohiniyattam in England and in Mexico, updating it within a modern, Western context, always respecting, as I explained before, the traditional basis of the repertoire, of the style, its transmission and its execution, while allowing an opening to creativity and renewal. A large part of this interesting exploration has been facilitated by the work with my group, Shaktala, and the play of the choreographic ideas of certain traditional and folk dances, thus giving birth in space to new geometric expressions and plastic filigrees.