An Interview with Dakshina Vaidyanathan

Dance is in her blood. At a young age of 21 she has moved audiences worldwide through a myriad of national and international performances, in in Japan, Africa, New Zealand and Russia to name a few and won many prestigious awards and scholarships as well. Dakshina Vaidyanathan, granddaughter of Padmashree Saroja Vaidyanathan and daughter of Kalaimamani Rama Vaidyanathan, recognised and admired for her talented performances and unconventional choreography, speaks about her passion for the divine art form – Bharatanatyam.

Deepashri: Dance is one of the most celebrated art forms in our country. I am sure all of us love to shake a leg every now and then. But to be willing to dedicate an entire lifetime to it requires a lot of passion and love. What does dance mean to you? All of us perceive art in different ways. How do you perceive dance in your mind’s eye?

Dakshina: For me, dance is a medium of expression. An author’s instrument is a pen. When he has a thought he expresses it in words. Dance is my comfort zone. It is easiest for me to express whatever I want in life through dance. I have a lot of different thoughts and concepts. I like novelty in thought; thinking of new concepts and new things; basically thinking out of the box.  My way of expressing this to the world is dance. And this is how I perceive dance. As to what dance means to me, it means the world. I have grown up with dance all around me all the time. It’s a way of life. It’s an inseparable part of me.

Deepashri: I have seen you come up with amazing choreography in the most intriguing subjects. How one can so beautifully capture ‘evolution of the advancement of technology in India’ and ‘Cleopatra’ in traditional style is beyond me.  What has by far been your most challenging choreography?

Dakshina: Thank you (smiling) I think my most challenging choreography was ‘From Zero to Infinity’ which described the evolution of the advancement of technology in India. The choreography was split into three acts, each describing the technological advancements in one millennium (the first, second and the third millennium respectively). As this choreography was in Bharatanatyam, it was important for me to bring in the spiritual aspect of technology. For example, in the medieval age, mechanical and civil technology saw its peak in temple architecture. The science behind temple architecture is actually linked with man’s journey from the material world to the ultimate state of ‘nirvana’ or salvation. This choreography opened my mind up to the different vistas of Bharatanatyam. It was challenging. But that’s what makes the taste of success even sweeter.

Deepashri: You do not strictly confine your choreography to Bharatnatyam, and yet it mirrors every essence of our tradition. It reflects a brave attempt to deviate from the conventional. What would you call your dancing style?

Dakshina: I perform solo Bharatanatyam in its traditional style. But I also do choreography, the style of which I like to call ‘neo-classical’. Traditional Bharatanatyam should definitely be preserved and performed as a part of our ancient heritage. It’s a beautiful art form. Compositions that have been passed down through generations are performed even today and it makes me feel very proud to be a part of this heritage. But at the same time, it is important for every art form to evolve with time to cater to our evolving thought process. Why should Bharatanatyam be restricted to being a monologue between the dancer and the Lord? Why should it be confined to only stories and compositions related to spirituality? Bharatanatyam is a language that has the capability to express almost anything. It is upto us, the new generation of dancers, to identify this. It is very challenging to express modern thoughts and concepts through Bharatanatyam. It’s like asking someone to explain the functioning of a laptop in Sanskrit. But I like challenges.

Deepashri: Do you believe dance has the power to heal?

Dakshina: When you dance for an audience or teach someone to dance, it transports them to different world, where everything is beautiful. You are snatched away from all your worries and tensions. At the end of a dance performance, if I have been able to bring a smile to the audience’s face, then I know I have achieved something. I would like to start teaching dance to paraplegic and mentally and physically challenged persons, especially children, because it increases motor nerve sensitivity, muscle control, memory and mind muscle coordination. Basically I want to use dance as a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual therapy to if not heal at least ease the pain of the specially abled.

Deepashri: In that case, do you think dance can not only address social issues, but also bring about a change, a revolution of its own? In this regard, what is your message to new age dancers?
Dakshina: Dance is a form of entertainment. Forms of entertainment are the best way to communicate to the society at an emotional level. For example, we were all aware that the problem of dyslexia exists in the society and many treated it as a social stigma. When the movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’ came, it was a wakeup call for the Indian society. It brought us in contact with the real life problems associated with this.  There are so many other movies and songs that have addressed our country’s social, cultural and political issues. It is very important for new age dancers to adopt dance as a form of social transformation.  We have to use dance to address the issues of today and not just tell the stories of yesterday.

Deepashri Varadarajan

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