WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CONTEMPORARY DANCER
Umeshi Rajeendra, a professional contemporary dancer who has been performing from the very young age of four, caught our attention few years ago with her performance practice that questioned a staged linear narrative. Rajeendra trained in ballet and jazz prior to discovering contemporary dance at university after having settled a passion for it, which has been furthered since. From the dancer’s stance and personal experience, contemporary dance is strongly linked to the imperative invention of an expressive vocabulary in the 20th Century, in opposition to the aesthetics of ballet, yet embracing abstractions found within the traditional practices of dance. Rajeendra notes that examples of pioneers such as Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon were modernist in their style of dancing at the time. “Contemporary dance is a pluralistic and inclusive term, comprising of a collection of practices and methodologies that have been developed from classical, modern and postmodern dance, providing room for conceptual endeavours, displays of technical athleticism and site specific explorations” stated Rajeendra on the core of contemporary dance.
Rajeendra obtained her Bachelors of Art in Dance at Denison University, Ohio. Since her education in the United States, she has performed in university every year for a slate of internationally respected artists and their respective dance companies including renowned names ranging from Dada Masilo, Lulu Mlangeni, Jesse Zaritt, Sandra Mathern Smith, Olivier Tarpaga, Stafford Berry, Julie Fox and Abby Zbikowski, based in the United States. Rajeendra is also currently spearheading the Mesh Academy of Dance & Theatre, based in Colombo.
Essence of Contemporary Dance
A clear definition of contemporary dance is difficult to describe because both the term and discipline is a part of a completely ever-morphing process. Influenced by individual and collective usage, it essentially recreates itself with every performance and manifestation claimed in the present moment. It is a broad field to operate in, and much can depend on the artist and context at work. Rajeendra has spoken about and presented the necessity for change in mindset about the potential benefits of contemporary modes of expression through dance in Sri Lanka. “Contemporary dance houses the potential to educate, innovate and allow young practitioners to explore and understand the fundamental relationship between mind, body, thought and feeling in artistic expression” she stated passionately. In forming her unique voice in this process of performatice craftmanship, she derives inspiration from the legendary Sri Lankan modernist dancer Deshamanya Chitrasena, the American dance pioneer Alvin Ailey and poetess Maya Angelou, the famous writer, poetess and civil rights activist who was a professional dancer prior to earning her international fame as a critically outspoken voice.
Engaging the audince with an intellectual kinesthetic
Rajeendra resolutely states that her works are not produced purely for the purpose of entertainment. Therefore, it would be almost impossible for a particular signature move to define her practice. Staying true to the integrity of an artist, the dancer crafts her professionalism with the capacity to engage the audience directly with an intellectual, kinesthetic and even a subtle comprehension. Research and conceptual interests play a strong role in the constant reinvention of the growing vocabulary of her movement. Rajeendra reveals that despite the countless conceptual elements often explored in her practice, a pattern has emerged in the display of a highly technical formidability of the mesomorphic, that which allows for compact and muscular engagement around the personal spaces of the body. The human form is often brought to its limits in the search and formative definition of an intimate forbearance in the physicality of such a language.