Yesterday I performed with the youth dance group I’m a part of – Yuva Culture. We were taking part in the Annual ISTD Congress, held this year at the Laban Centre in South East London. ISTD is the Imperial Society for Teachers of Dance, one of the three main dance examination boards in the world. A few years ago, several senior Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancers, based in the UK, decided to create a syllabus for South Asian dance, following the course of six graded exams, and vocational exams afterwards. This has been quite unique in the world of Indian dance, as I don’t think there was previously much in the way of standardised examining.
Anyway it was a nice experience yesterday. Tulasi and I recently took our Grade 6 Bharatanatyam exam and it was really interesting to see the equivalent level of the Kathak performers, as well as the performers of other grade levels and styles. Other teachers and performers were there also and there was a nice mood of sharing and celebrating the hard work that gets put in throughout the year.
(My camera ran out of battery after only two of the groups performed)
It was especially nice to be doing it at the Laban centre, which has been purpose built for dance training and performance.
All the dance studios have coloured, translucent windows that are opaque in the daylight, but as night falls, glow and illuminate the building with the light from inside.
We were performing a piece called ‘6 ounces’. The title refers to the supposed weight of the soul and is supposed to be based on themes of life and death, but it is mostly abstract dance. It’s really fast and extremely challenging and I’m always very nervous before we perform it. It’s one of those dances that you have to be constantly fit to do – starting to practice a week before won’t help much – so I was in a bit of a dilemma with all my university work. Anyway, it went ok – not great, but alright. Just before we performed, some senior Kathak dancers performed ‘Madhurashtakam’ – the beautiful song by Sri Vallabhacarya that praises the sweet beauty of every aspect of Lord Krishna’s form and pastimes. I was swept away in it, and it really boosted my confidence to perform. I find it’s easy to get rid of nerves if you put the performance in perspective. Thinking of Krishna always does that for me. I try to just realise that in some small way I am doing this for him, and no matter how the performance goes, even if I collapse on stage, his fixed presence and importance in my life will remain unmoved.
I was happy to be doing a small solo in the middle of the piece. We used to dance it with six people, but one of our dancers couldn’t come, so we had to re-choreograph it for five. In one part of the dance we split off into pairs – and I was the odd one out, so I got to choreograph a very short solo to give some philosophical meaning to the piece. My teacher just left me to it, so I used a Bhagavad Gita verse and put it into abhinaya (dance expression through hand gesture and facial expression):
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
And from one casting off of the body, to another (how’s this for a link) – Caterpillar update! Firstly, the day after I posted this, look who I found crawling around at the feet of Vrajamohan?
Hope you can see him in the centre of the flower there…
I don’t know where he came from, maybe Krishna’s just having a joke with me…
Secondly, the mail order caterpillars are all doing extremely well. Fat and sluggish now that they’ve eaten the sweet contents of the jar they came in, they are slowly attaching themselves to the ceiling of their little home and making their cocoons.
Thirdly, (and most importantly) although we lost one of our little Brijbasis, the other one, who we’ve christened (?) Gopal, is still ALIVE! He’s managed to survive almost a month of artificial heating and English dandelion leaves, so I have high hopes for his continued existence! Perhaps we will have a Vrindavan butterfly (or moth) by the end of the month…
And now, back to my coursework. Only a few more essays to go and then I’m done for the year. Students have it so easy.