In every issue, DDU Connect presents views of amateurs from different realms. This time, our team got a chance to e-interview Dr. Geeta Chandran. We got it published in the Issue 4 of this volume and received great response for the same.
Padmashree Dr. Geeta Chandran:
Padmashree Dr. Geeta Chandran is a celebrated artist and a star-performer, who has imprinted Bharatanatyam with her personal vision of the dance. She has done her Bachelors in Mathematical Statistics from the Lady Shri Ram College for Women and her postgraduation in Advertising & Public Relations from the Indian Institute of Mass Communications. Dr. Chandran has learnt the renowned classical dance form under various eminent gurus. She is the Founder-President and Artistic Director of the Natya Vriksha Dance Company. She is celebrated not only for her deep and composite understanding of the art of Bharatanatyam, but also for her Carnatic music, her work in television, video and film, theatre, choreography, dance education etc.. Dr. Geeta Chandran has authored a book- SO MANY JOURNEYS and also writes an influential dance column in The New Indian Express/Sunday Standard.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
Q1. What were your parents’ reactions when you chose a life in the field of dance after doing your Masters’ in Public Relations and Journalism?
Hailing from a traditional Palghat Iyer family, formal studies always was matched by pursuit of the arts. From a young age I was learning both Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. My father was very clear that I had to complete formal education. Thus after my schooling, I pursued Mathematical Statistics at the Lady Shri Ram College for Women (LSR). But after my graduation, I realized that Mathematical Statistics could not engage me for my career. So I joined the Indian Institute of Mass Communications for my Masters in Advertising and Public Relations. I also worked in a few wonderful professional set-ups. But the calling of the arts was always too strong to ignore. The conflict was not about choosing the arts as my profession; the conflict at home was which of the arts to pursue professionally. My mother was adamant that I should pursue Carnatic vocal music as my vocation. My heart dictated dance. And to this day, my mother feels that I made the wrong choice!
Q2. What inspired you to diverge from the classical dance to other contemporary themes like
female feticide, drugs etc.?
I guess that my formal education led me to question several things that usually one takes for
granted. LSR was a highly feminist environment. So themes around gender justice appealed to me more- whether it was raising my artistic voice against female feticide or the marginalization of women in war, several women-oriented themes became my choice. And trained in communications, I was able to mix my dance skills to articulate my deepest gender anxieties. Issues like drugs and environment were also dear to me. The performances built around those themes were specially commissioned by organizations. The drug menace in the Punjab is terrifying today. And the degradation of our environment should be a universal concern, not just of a few artists!
Q3. Among all your choreographers, which would you count as a personal favourite and why?
Every choreographer is a different challenge. Working with Rashid Ansari in Kaikeyi was especially challenging because Rashid led me thorough a detailed process of unlearning the classical. My body which for decades was trained to be a Bharatanatyam, body had to unlearn its spinal lessons as I explored new forms like Kabuki, Bu-toh and Tai Chi. Deleting physical memory from the body was a huge challenge and that is why that experience remains my favourite since it was so very complex.
Q4. Having a high flying career like yours, was it easy to manage both- personal and professional life?
From a very early age, I was taught how to multitask efficiently and manage time with precision. That early lesson has stood me in very good stead and has made it possible for me to engage with my diverse dance-related interests: performing, teaching, conducting, singing, collaborating, organizing, writing and speaking to new youth audiences.
Q5. A day in your life consists of?
My day begins with body toning and improving physical flexibility. Then comes my prayer time, followed by a strict regimen of dance practice till about 2 oçlock. Then a quick light lunch. My dance studio opens at 3 and I teach till late – often until 8 p.m. Then the Dance Company’s rehearsals begin that go on till 10 p.m.. This is the usual routine. This schedule is integrated with meetings, new ideas, costume fittings, interactions with musicians, media related work, and of course, most important performances. So it’s a mad life actually!
Q6. In view of other dance forms gaining popularity in India, how are the traditional forms faring? What steps are to be taken in such a situation?
I am a firm believer in the eternal classical. Everything else is seasonal! Fads and fashions will come and go. But dance forms like Bharatanatyam are perennial. The audience and students for the classical are witnessing a huge boom. What is required is better funding patterns and channels of performance opportunity for the young dancers who spend tears and years acquiring classical skills. That is why I am passionate about raising money for the arts and propagating the concept of corporate cultural responsibility.
As India becomes a rich nation with enviable GDP, we need to ensure that our wealth is also channelled into keeping the arts vibrant and as a potent means for young professionals to express themselves in.
Without our arts, we are NOTHING!
Q7. What is the vision forward for your dance academy, Natya Vriksha?
As Founder-President of Natya-Vriksha and Artistic Director of the Natya Vriksha Dance Company, I am delighted at the top branding we have acquired in both teaching pedagogy and in performances; we are known for the high aesthetic quality of our group presentations.
The Natya Vriksha Dance Company is unique in that all dancers have been entirely trained in Bharatanatyam by me. It’s a unique modern-day Gurukul; since the dancers have grown up together, the level of trust and togetherness evident in the Company’s choreographies, and ensures a completely different emotional appeal.
The Dance Company has forged a reputation for its crisp and mature group dance presentations. The Company has performed widely to rave reviews and has set high standards for group performances. The Natya Vriksha Dance Company was invited to perform twice at the National Festival of Choreography in Delhi, for the Uday Shankar Choreography Festival in Kolkata, at the famed Lincoln Centre in New York as part of the 2007 India-60 celebrations and for the Festival in Thailand in Bangkok in October 2008. The Company’s precise and crisp Bharatanatyam choreographies include HER VOICE, AVAL, SEASONS, IMAGINING PEACE, MYTHOLOGIES RETOLD.
Natya Vriksha is incredibly proud of the over forty disciples who have presented their arangetram, of the growing numbers of professional dancers proliferating from the institution’s portals and of the growing number of scholarship holders who are testimonials to the successful method that I have evolved.
Natya Vriksha’s vision statement seeks to probe the continuing relevance of classical tradition in a world of changing values. It showcases the aesthetics of Bharatanatyam and its history, how the tenets of the dance can be employed as a means of communicating issues of contemporary concern, even while exploring linkages between history and continuity, between external body and internal mind-space, between yesterday and tomorrow, between artist and audience, between roots and wings.
Q8. On a personal note, any success mantra you follow?
Work. Hard work! That is the only mantra. Skills have to be painstakingly acquired and developed. There are no shortcuts to success!
Q9. Any message that you would like to give our readers?
I think being Indian is an incredible blessing. The diversity of our artistic expression makes us a unique culture. Every Indian should be aware of this dharohar and should cherish it. Let is celebrate our uniqueness and our Indian-ness!