The Dance Centre is partnering with Vancouver’s Mandala Arts and Culture to present Sannidhanam – a new work choreographed by world-renowned Indian bharata natyam artist Rama Vaidyanathan, commissioned by Mandala and streaming on demand November 8 -15. We sat down (virtually) with Rama and Mandala’s Jai Govinda to find out more.
What prompted you to organize this digital presentation?
Jai Govinda: As part of its annual presentation of artists from India, Mandala had invited Rama and her daughter Dakshina to perform in Vancouver. Then COVID came and we had to cancel the event. The following year when I again invited Rama and Dakshina for a virtual performance, Dakshina was expecting. This is when Rama proposed a group piece, to which I immediately agreed.
Why did Mandala commission Rama Vaidyanathan?
JG: As she heard that Mandala was getting the support of The Dance Centre for this presentation, Rama wanted to create something new and secular. Rama is well-known all over the world for her fresh approach and creativity in bharata natyam, and here was a unique occasion for us to present a group creation.
Why do you think it’s important for her work to be seen?
JG: Although now very popular in India, group presentations in bharata natyam are difficult to present outside of India because of the extra travel cost for a large group, visa issues, and now of course COVID. Also, steeped in a dance style that is highly stylized and codified, it is important for us to initiate our audiences to new work that pushes forward the so-called boundaries of that dance style.
How do you know Rama and her work?
JG: I have spent many months and years in Delhi learning and performing, as the teachers and choreographers I chose to work with were based there. Rama was then an upcoming young artist in Delhi, and I was always appreciative of her work. Although I had wanted to present her in the five-year run of our dance festival Gait to the spirit, somehow it never materialized. In 2019, Rama invited me to be part of the prestigious Natya Kala conference in Chennai, and we reconnected there. Her approach and sensibility to our times made it one of the most successful Natya Kala conference over the many years of its existence.
Rama, tell us about your dance career.
Rama Vaidynathan: It began when my mother was nine months pregnant with me and was living in Pune, Maharashtra where my father was stationed as an officer in the Indian Army. The prima ballerina Yamini Krishnamurthy came to the base camp for a performance and my mother was mesmerized by her artistry. So engrossed was she in the dance that she stood up on her chair to get a better view! She decided there and then that she would get this unborn child to learn dance from this lady. That night I was born and six years later in New Delhi my mother enrolled me with Yamini Krishnamurthy to learn bharata natyam. So, it turns out that my Guru was chosen for me even before I was born!
Learning with Yamini Amma was a delight and a challenge at the same time. She was very exacting as well as inspiring, and she taught me selflessly without withholding. My second Guru, Saroja Vaidyanathan – another renowned dancer who is also my mother-in-law – taught me the art of being a professional dancer. She guided me through my struggling years and stood by me like a pillar of strength.
Very early in my career I started choreographing my own pieces, finding great joy in using my medium of expression to express my inner thoughts. Very gradually, and very organically, I developed my own style, which is a personal dialogue between me and dance.
What would you like people to know about this piece?
RV: Symbols hold a tremendous significance in Indian philosophy and many of them have become indelible tenets of knowledge and awakening. They appear to be the simplest but are potent with layers of possibilities. This work explores the significance of the square, the circle and the triangle, integrating them with ancient literature that uses them as mediums to delineate spiritual concepts. Bharata natyam as a dance form with its precise grammar and lines lends itself perfectly to depicting these sacred geometric shapes.
As a school student I was always fascinated with geometry, and this percolated into the dance studio, and while dancing I felt I was carving geometry in space. My study of Indian philosophy and my deep interest in integrating my dance with geometry and spirituality led me to create SANNIDHANAM – sacred spaces. I created it during the lockdown specially for Jai Govinda and Mandala Arts who commissioned it. Because of the pandemic, I had undiluted time with my students who worked extremely hard on this production.
How have you adapted your practice during the pandemic?
JG: For the past year and a half, all our Academy classes have been run on Zoom. So it is also with the workshops with our guest artists from India, and our presentations have been virtual.
RV: My practice during the pandemic has been very relaxed, unhurried and without any time line pressures. This actually helped me to internalise my dance, and allowed me to dance just for the joy of it without being bound by performance-targeted practice sessions. I also got a lot more time with my students to teach them some traditional compositions as well as help them in their own individual journeys.
What is your next project?
JG: Mandala will be presenting two virtual bharata natyam performances, by local dancers Kiruthika Rathanaswami in December 2021, and Malavika Santhosh in February 2022. We have also been in contact with a few other artists from India which we want to continue to present in Vancouver. We will have to see about the possibilities of being able to present those performances live. We will otherwise opt for a virtual performance.
RV: My next project is the very prestigious Music Academy festival that is held in Chennai every year. This year it is going to be online and I will be presenting a solo recital with some very rare compositions that I have choreographed during the pandemic.
Rama Vaidyanathan + Ensemble
Streaming on Demand Monday November 8 – November 15, 2021 | 6pm PST
Presented by Mandala Arts and Culture in partnership with The Dance Centre
Photo: Jai Govinda/Ron Sangha