Bharatanatyam in Yemen [Archives:2007/1060/Last Page]

June 18 2007

Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]
and Essam Al-Dueis

As a step in expanding cultural cooperation between Yemen and India, an Indian classical dancer, singers and musicians visited Yemen from June 13-18.

Organizing the event were the Indian Embassy and Indian associations, represented by India's ambassador to Yemen, R.M. Aggarwal, under the patronage of Yemen's Ministry of Culture. Minister of Culture Mohammed Al-Maflahi inaugurated the evening at the Cultural Center in Sana'a last Thursday evening by lighting a ceremonial candle.

Indian classical dancer Aarthi Shankar explains, “I've been dancing for 16 years, since my childhood, learning various classical dances from my teachers. I now have my own institute for teaching classical dance.”

During her first visit to Yemen, Shankar and her accompanists presented such dances through the sponsorship of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The event is considered a continuation of further Indian cultural activities in Yemen after a lengthy suspension of such events.

Shankar is a famous dancer and an expert in performing classical Indian dance. She directs the Lalit Kala Nrityalay Institute for classical dance and music. She also presents a special program on Indian national television, but until now, she hasn't had a good chance to play a heroic role in Indian movies.

Classical or modern?

There are eight types of classical Indian dance, each performed in a special way. Indians give more importance to classical dance because it is a part of religious ties. “Classical dance lets you know more about religion. All classical dances are part of our religious ties,” Shankar's dance teacher Saroja Kalaimamani explains.

Both types of music and dance are performed equally in India, as both have their own audiences and devotees; however, because most Indians consider classical dance and music a part of their religious and cultural ties and activities, they mostly prefer classical.

“All dances, music, culture and religious ties are mixed together and related to each other,” Aggarwal commented.

Modern dance also is good and has its own audiences. As Shankar says, “There are people who are crazy about popular and modern dance and music in general, but they shortly return to classical. Some people don't consider modern dance a part of religious ties.

“As for me, I perform modern dance only at parties,” she notes, “But as a professional performer, classical dance is the focus. The new generation considers classical dance their historical heritage.

“I believe that even in this modern world, where everything can be explained, there remain a few unsolved mysteries and marvels, which I seek to explain through dance,” Shankar expressed, adding, “Dance gives me spiritual energy as a sign of hope from God.”

Shankar is a recipient of the national scholarship for the classical Indian dance, “Bharatanatyam,” from India's Department of Culture. She's also considered a professional artist and dancer able to perform a triple fusion of three classical dances: Kathakk, Bharatanatyam and Odissi.

“My success is due to my teacher, Saroja Kalaimamani, who gives me a lot out of her great experience to make my performance more professional,” Shankar explains. Kalaimamani is one of India's most prominent Bharatanatyam exponents, as well as a professional dancer who has traveled both in India and abroad to perform classical dance.

Like many political and economic activities, cultural activities open a channel for communication between two nations, in this case, India and Yemen. “When we realized how much many people respect our rich cultural heritage, we planned to make trips abroad to display our heritage to others and at the same time, see the heritage of others,” Shankar noted.

Shankar's time in Yemen began in Sana'a, then Hodeidah, concluding in Aden. “I'm amazed at the beautiful country of Yemen and the hospitality of Yemeni people. I didn't feel that I was away from home while I was in Yemen,” she remarked.

Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest forms of dance of India, having been nurtured in the temples and courts of southern India since ancient times. The art was handed down from generation to generation as a living tradition under the Devadasi system, whereby women were dedicated to temples to serve the particular deity as dancers and musicians comprising part of the elaborate religious rituals.

Today, Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and both male and female dancers all over India practice it. Its wide range of movements and postures, as well as the balanced melange of rhythmic and mimetic aspects, lends itself well to experimental and fusion choreography.

“Bharatanatyam can be performed as a romantic dance wherein both men and women perform because some Indian dances are performed either individually or in groups,” Shankar concluded.

Indian attendee Sundaramurby was enthralled by the beautiful dramatic dance, commenting, “For the Indian community, this is the best type of dance and it's exciting to see such traditional dance in Sana'a. Aarthi and her team performed very well.”

Following Shankar and her team's performance, a group of school children presented beautiful songs and dances, to which the audience responded by applauding and shouting cheerfully.