DANCE IN CULTURE
India is a land of varied cultures and traditions. Diversities in all spheres make the Indian culture unique. One of the particular aspects that make Indian culture unique is their distinct dance forms, including ‘Bharathanatyam’. This form of dance is a classical dance from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Daily ARTRA’s Artist of the Week, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah excels in the field of Bharatanatyam and this is his story:
Q: Why did you want to become a dancer ? How did your journey begin ?
A: My parents wished that I should take up a medical career and wanted me to become a doctor. Even though my journey started as my parents wished, I never could continue as my focus was to study dance full time. I never had a role model to look up to and it had been very hard to convince my parents to grant me permission to pursue Dance as my lifetime carrier. Thanks to my school St.Michel’s College National, they encouraged me to pursue dance despite the fact that I came from a boys' school and they strongly recommended that I should go for my passion. I promised my parents that I will become a Dr of Philosophy in the field of dance and embarked on the journey in India for a vigorous and extensive study. I continued my training as a full-time Bharatanatyam dance student at Kalai Kaviri College of fine arts Trichy, under the eye of Smt Ogeswari Shanmuganathan (Kalakshetra Alumni & disciple of Smt Neila Sathyalingam, and Smt Sharada Hoffman), where I graduated obtaining gold medals in both Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Bharatanataym awarded by the Bharathidasan University. I also completed his MPhil in Bharatanatyam at the Tanjore Tamil University, and currently pursuing PhD research in Bharatanatyam in India. I have been trained in Kuchipudi under the tutelage of Shri Kishore Mosalikanti from India. I have been currently mentored by the renowned Bharathanatyam dancer and choreographer Smt Priyadarsini Govind.
I was a company dancer at Aru Sri Art Theatre, Sri Lanka, and have worked under the guidance of its founder director Dr Arunthathy Sriranganathan, performing and choreographing with the theatre extensively. I still continue to perform for their iconic productions staged in Sri Lanka. I am the principal dancer and resident choreographer at renowned Apsaras Arts dance company, Singapore supported by the National Arts Council Singapore.
Q: As an artist, what is it that you want to say to the audience through your dance ?
I practice an old Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam century by the visionary leaders in the field of dance. Today, it is one of such popular art forms, which is performed widely around the globe. As a soloist I have been working on a group productions over a decade with Apsaras Arts Singapore, as a choreographer and performer and previously at Aru Sri Art Theatre Sri Lanka, where I gained a valuable experience in the field of dance to reach out to the audiences around the world with an innovative approach to Bharatanatyam, while retaining its tradition. My understanding of Bharatanatyam is not just a mere showcase of one’s skill, but about transcending the barriers of the five senses, touch, the intellect and mind. I am also fascinated in exploring unique concepts with strong techniques of Bharatanatyam, where the focus is that my work should be relatable to today’s audiences, be transformative, educative and thought-provoking. Singapore is rich in art and culture and has been giving me a great platform for opportunities to collaborate with many artists around Pan Pacific and South East Asia.
Some of my choreography work: Parama Padam - The Life’s Game of Snakes and Ladders, is inspired by the board game of Snakes and Ladders which was originated in India in the 10th century. It was a solo thematic production performed by myself; Sita’s Magical forest - A Dance Theatre Production for the children as the audience (2012) Glimpses of Angkor - Inspired by its famed bas-relief, a spectacular 70m long depiction of the Hindu legend Churning of the Milk Ocean at the Angkor Was Temple in Cambodia. (2013) Angkor - An Untold Story, is a powerful work of imagination intended to take the audience to a faraway time and place re-creating the Khmer world in the twelfth century. This is a collaborative work with dancers from Cambodia (2013) Anjasa - The wonders of Buddhist monument of Asia (2014) Alapadma - The lotus Unfolds (2015) Agathi - The Plight of Refugees (2016) Anjaneyam - The Hanuma’s Ramayana. This is a collaborative work with Javanese dancers from Indonesia (2017).
Q. What was your inspiration behind your passion ?
I was born to a traditional family of goldsmiths from Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, even though “Art & Creativity is in my genes, I wasn’t hailing from any lineage of dancers or musicians in the family. But I was deeply rooted in culture and tradition by my parents when I was ever since a child. I am so lucky that I was exposed to multiple platforms such as dance, music, religion and literature which were also a part of the curriculum in the school in Sri Lanka. I started to enjoy every single performance during my school period. And over the time I began to realise that dance became one of my strength as a strong skill in my life and I started learning Bharatanatyam under the guidance of Smt Subithra Kirubaharan (disciple of Padmashri Adayar K. Lakshman) in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.
There were two different life experiences that have affected me deeply to become more passionate about dance and to understand how dance can contribute to the community. Firstly, in 2004 after had written my O/L exam I was waiting for the results to come, during that time it was the eve of Christmas Tsunami affected Sri Lanka heavily and coastal towns like Batticaloa was affected drastically. During that time with the support of NGO UNICEF, under the banner of the Centre of Performing Arts (CPA), I used to go to relief camps and entertain the refugees and teach dance. I always leave the place with a peace of mind and happiness for the little relief that I could give the needed ones with dance.
Secondly, there was a community service project initiated by Sunera Foundation working on the vision that recognizes and accepts the contribution of persons living with disability in the society. I have had the great privilege of working with a foundation to provide dance-oriented workshops and programmes for the special needs children. With these experiences, I developed the devotion towards my passion for dance and that has inspired me to make Dance as my carrier. Then I moved to India for higher studies in Dance.
. What do you believe is the role of a dancer ?
As far as I concerned, the role of a dancer will be the commitment in the first place. When there is a commitment, nurturing, developing and progressing will lead way to achievements. My commitment for dance has brought many experiences that I could gain which has enabled me to discover my strengths in order to play many roles such as dancer, choreographer, teacher, researcher, writer, designer and curator. While it gives me immense pleasure and satisfying experience, it also reminds me constantly the responsibilities of being a dancer, such as, lifetime learning - so that you can establish the best knowledge to the generations to come, refine the skills - so that you can inspire those who are aspiring to become a dancers, preserve and practice the ethos of our traditions - so that we can carry away the legacy of the art form to live endlessly. I am so grateful that I am able to learn and be guided by great teachers, which I believe is the best thing in my life.
Q. What infulences your dance ?
Appropriate aesthetics, deep understanding of the content that I deal with, contemporary thoughts which have great values & impacts, versatile dance vocabularies which extends the boundaries, new narratives which helps conceiving unique concepts which are thought provoking and sharing different perspectives and strong technique are the great influences of my dancing.
Q. Who are the artists you admire and why ?
I always try to widen my horizon to draw inspiration from various artists around the world. I don’t particularly stick my interest only within the traditional art forms but I also like to watch contemporary works, cross collaboration works, Dance Opera, Musicals, and Russian Ballet. Each one of the performances has given me an exceptional inspiration, motivation to push my boundaries. I strongly believe that artists evolve when they have the openness to embrace the best influences from various artists and art forms while retaining the strong principal of their art forms. I admire Dr Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan for funding a theatre for the home-grown artists to expose and develop their artistic pursuit in Sri Lanka, Chithrasena Dance company, in Sri Lanka for their rigorous dedication and have established distinct style of Kandyan Dance, the world-renowned Bharatanatyam Dancer Smt Priyadarshini Govind, who is my mentor for her strong technique and unique approach to the dance form, Dr Padma Subramaniam, for her wide research study on South East Asian traditional dance forms, – Bharatanrityam Dancer Lakshmi Vishwanathan for her vast knowledge in the field of dance, Aravinth Kumarasamy, who is an artistic director of renowned Apsaras Arts Dance Company for his creative iconic dance productions, Akhram Khan for establishing his identity as an Indian classical dancer transformed into a world-renowned contemporary dancer, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, and Sleeping beauty for their larger scale opera theatre productions, Carman company for their exceptional flamingo dance theatre productions.
ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.