Bal­let equals beauty

The Sunday Guardian - - Artbeat -

in In­dian cities. To­day, bal­let schools are scat­tered across Delhi and Mumbai, of­fer­ing pro­fes­sional train­ing and de­grees en­dorsed by for­eign mae­stros. But that is not all. In­dia is mak­ing its mark on the in­ter­na­tional scene by send­ing its own home­grown bal­let dancers to woo the global au­di­ences.

San­jay Kha­tri is one such bal­let artiste who has per­formed at sev­eral in­ter­na­tional venues. He is also con­sid­ered the first male bal­let dancer from In­dia to per­form in­ter­na­tion­ally. Based in Delhi, Kha­tri is now on a mis­sion to pop­u­larise bal­let in In­dia. Kha­tri is the founder of the Cen­tral Con­tem­po­rary Bal­let, a bal­let school lo­cated in Gu­ru­gram, and be­lieves that of late there has been a sig­nif­i­cant spike in the num­ber of as­pir­ing bal­leri­nas and bal­leri­nos on these shores.

“Change is go­ing to come with aware­ness,” Kha­tri tells Guardian 20. “Things will change with the help of the In­ter­net, where one can find nu­mer­ous tu­to­ri­als made by good bal­let teach­ers. All this will en­hance the knowl­edge of in­ter­ested stu­dents. Peo­ple who re­ally want to learn bal­let can now con­trib­ute to­wards this change, and help im­prove the qual­ity of bal­let ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia.”

Kha­tri be­lieves that the short­age of proper plat­forms for those who wish to learn bal­let is also a big con­cern here. “In my opin­ion,” he says, “we should have some sort of Na­tional School of Bal­let, re­con­g­nised by the gov­ern­ment, just like the Na­tional School of Drama. It is not a new con­cept. Many coun­tries, like Korea, Ar­gentina, Rus­sia, China etc., al­ready have such na­tional schools. This way, the stu­dents can get the chance to learn qual­ity bal­let from ex­pert fac­ulty at nom­i­nal fees.”

Khushcheher Dal­las is the head of the School of Clas­si­cal Bal­let and Western Dance in Mumbai. She was among the fac­ulty mem­bers at the Bal­let Fes­ti­val of In­dia, and is her­self at the fore­front of In­dia’s emerg­ing bal­let scene.

“A per­fect bal­le­rina,” she says, “is one who has a shorter-struc­tured torso in re­la­tion to her long nice legs. She needs to have good move­ment abil­ity, es­pe­cially at the hip socket. The per­son is ex­pected to have a long neck and beau­ti­fully shaped arms with feet that are flex­i­ble. Apart from these phys­i­cal qual­i­ties, the dancer is sup­posed to be mu­si­cal and artis­tic, as at the end of the day, they need to com­mu­ni­cate a mes­sage to the au­di­ences via their moves and fa­cial ex­pres­sions.”

All clas­si­cal forms are best mas­tered early on in life, and bal­let is no ex­cep­tion. Dal­las says, “Any child from the age of 2-3 can start to learn bal­let as that is when they be­gin lis­ten­ing to mu­sic and fol­low­ing the pat­terns. We in the School of Clas­si­cal Bal­let and Western Dance take in chil­dren once they are 5-6. Be­cause to be­come a pro­fes­sional dancer one has to start early to reach that level of ex­per­tise.”

In In­dia, though, clas­si­cal bal­let is hardly seen as pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment. Other dance forms, like fu­sion, Bollywood and hip-hop, take pride of place on our prime­time slots and re­al­ity TV shows. And the sit­u­a­tion isn’t much dif­fer­ent in the West, where bal­let is side­lined by other sim­pler forms. Re­nee Chate­lain is the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Arts Coun­cil of Greater Ba­ton Rouge in Los An­ge­les, USA. She was also on the fac­ulty of the Bal­let Fes­ti­val of In­dia, and while here she spoke to Guardian 20 on the side­lines of the event. “Salsa and hip-hop are dances that stem from a folk cul­tural base. Bal­let is a form of dance in­volv­ing long-term study of tech­nique and artistry. Many such dance forms, like salsa, hip-hop, disco, zy­deco and be­bop, are a re­flec­tion of trends in so­ci­ety and by their na­ture can be picked up and mas­tered quickly. They also tend to change as so­ci­ety changes. Bal­let, how­ever, is a tra­di­tional art form that is passed on from mas­ter to stu­dent in the same way go­ing back more than two cen­turies,” says Chate­lain, who has been a pro­fes­sional bal­let teacher for 36 years now.

So the main chal­lenge for bal­let dancers and teach­ers, more so In­dia than in the West, has to do with pop­u­lar ac­cep­tance of a tra­di­tional form. One ef­fec­tive means of do­ing so is through the power of cin­ema. In 2011, di­rec­tor Darren Aronof­sky’s Black Swan, fea­tur­ing Natalie Port­man, was re­leased world­wide. The film was an adap­ta­tion of Swan Lake, a bal­let com­posed by the Rus­sian mu­si­cian Py­otr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the 19th cen­tury, and it went on to win an Os­car. This was surely a big boost for the bal­let commu- nity ev­ery­where.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was also at the cen­tre of a re­cent show per­formed by the Royal Rus­sian Bal­let, which was hosted in Septem­ber at Delhi’s Siri Fort Au­di­to­rium. In an in­ter­view with Guardian 20, the show’s di­rec­tor, Ana­toliy Kazatskiy, said, “I cer­tainly be­lieve that adap­ta­tion of clas­si­cal bal­lets into main­stream cin­ema can play a piv­otal part in pop­u­lar­is­ing the genre. Given that bal­let is still an art form con­sumed only by niche au­di­ences, and that cin­ema con­tin­ues to be a mass in­flu­encer, a con­flu­ence of the two can go a long way in piquing the in­ter­est of more peo­ple. Black Swan, par­tic­u­larly, was a beau­ti­fully made film that did jus­tice to the essence of the bal­let. Such pro­duc­tions are im­por­tant to help au­di­ences dis­cover the mar­vels of the art.”

To say that a lot still needs to be done doesn’t take away from the fact that bal­let in In­dia is al­ready on its way up. What could help fur­ther in this re­gard, ac­cord­ing to Cza­rina Vil­le­gas, a 28-yearold bal­le­rina from the Philip­pines, is in­cor­po­rat­ing lo­cal cul­tural el­e­ments into this Western dance form. “It is mostly the cul­ture. The me­dia nowa­days por­trays bal­let as if it is sort of ar­chaic, even when it’s re­ally not. An­other thing is bal­let’s Euro­pean ori­gins. For bal­let to flour­ish in Asia, it has to adapt by in­cor­po­rat­ing Asian cul­tural el­e­ments, like trans­pos­ing lo­cal folk dances, into bal­let, like what we do in the Philip­pines. I have seen con­sid­er­able in­ter­est in bal­let here in In­dia, and I can say pop­u­lar re­cep­tion is steadily grow­ing,” says Vil­le­gas, who was in Mumbai last week to at­tend the Bal­let Fes­ti­val of In­dia.

Any­how, the prospects look promis­ing enough. Ac­cord­ing to Ashifa Sarkar Vasi, the fes­ti­val’s co- founder, the fu­ture of bal­let in In­dia is bright. “To me,” she says, “bal­let is still young in In­dia. It is barely a few decades old. But in the past 10 years, there has been a tremen­dous change in the In­dian bal­let scene—schools are mush­room­ing, and so is a greater de­gree of aware­ness. I be­lieve this is set­ting the stage for a sig­nif­i­cant change in In­dian bal­let over the next 10 or 20 years. With ac­cess to im­proved train­ing, greater ex­po­sure and bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the dance form, bal­let will flour­ish in the near fu­ture here. I think it will be a po­ten­tial ca­reer op­tion soon, hope­fully in the next 10-20 years.”

“We in the School of Clas­si­cal Bal­let and Western Dance take in chil­dren once they are 5-6. Be­cause to be­come a pro­fes­sional dancer one has to start early to reach that level of ex­per­tise.”

Khushcheher Dal­las (cen­ter-back, with her hands in the air) with other dancers of her bal­let troupe.

PHOTO: SUDHARAK OLWE

At Ashifa Sarkar Vasi’s bal­let school.

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