Bright colours. Solo performers. A serene stage that is a blank canvas awaiting rhythmic dancing. The Gait to the Spirit culture festival for classical Indian dance showcased these elements, and more. From October 31 to November 2, the Mandala Arts and Culture Society featured several renowned classical dancers from India, Canada, and the United States performing this beautiful art form.
Unlike bhangra, the folk dance of Bollywood, classical Indian dance is more reverent, deeply moving, and spiritual in origin. The festival’s artistic director, Jai Govinda, is also the founder of a dance academy that trains people in the art of bharata natyam, a classical Indian dance style.
He says of the festival’s poetic title, “Gait is a way of walking, and ‘to the spirit’ refers to [how] most classical dance maintains roots in the temple and that spiritual connection [is made on] the dance floor. Aficionados and people who are well travelled are attracted to the festival’s beauty.”
The October 31 show featured Meenakshi Srinivasan, a dancer from India who Govinda brought back because she was well-loved by audiences at the 2010 festival. The November 1 show featured the talents of Janaki Rangarajan, while the November 2 show saw a double feature of performances by Sujit Vaidya and Nivedha Ramalingam.
Prior to the show, The Peak sat down with Nivedha Ramalingam to discuss the meaning and aesthetics behind her performance. Her feature was comprised of three parts: an opening offering to God called the pushpa njali, a worshipful dance called slokam, and a final pradosha number that paid tribute to the god of dance.
Ramalingam has been studying the art of bharata natyam dance for nearly 15 years, and is currently pursuing her masters in the dance form at the prestigious Annamalai University in India.
“People can have a misunderstanding of Indian dance and will often relate it to Bollywood dancing,” she says, “[Classical Indian dance] is completely different.
People who watch the show will be able to see that distinction between the two. Arts is a dominant feature of Indian culture, and it is important for people to see and support emerging young artists doing this form of dance.”
I had the pleasure of watching Ramalingam dance for myself, and true to her word, her dance was definitely distinct from those associated with Bollywood and bhangra. Her feet moved quickly and gracefully, and an enchanting air of reverence shadowed her performance. While her movements were certainly structured, a thread of grace was woven through them, and her passion and joy for her art was easily communicated.
Gait to the Spirit was a gem of a festival that shone light on an often underappreciated art form. It not only provided audiences with a scene of beauty and art, but also enlightened them on the many facets of Indian culture.