In love with dance - By Aruna Rathod

An ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Steve Rooks, for­mer prin­ci­pal of Martha Gra­ham Dance Com­pany and cur­rent Pro­fes­sor and Chair of Dance at the Vas­sar Col­lege, USA.

The Luxury Collection - - Contents - -By Aruna Rathod

Steve Rooks is very com­fort­able in Mum­bai. He was here in the sec­ond half of March on in­vi­ta­tion from the Sumeet Nagdev Dance Acad­emy (SNDA) in Mum­bai for a work­shop and fi­nal­is­ing the chore­og­ra­phy for the 10th year cel­e­bra­tion of the acad­emy in April.

The world-renowned Martha Gra­ham Dance Com­pany’s for­mer prin­ci­pal, Rooks who is now the pro­fes­sor and chair of dance at Vas­sar col­lege in the USA, loves the ded­i­ca­tion of the In­dian stu­dents. “I have seen a lot of clas­si­cal In­dian dance and I love the dex­ter­ity and ex­pres­sions of the dancers. I be­lieve that ex­pres­sion is vi­tally im­por­tant and it’s the tran­si­tion from be­ing a dancer to an artist,” says the lean Rooks.

This time, Rooks had a lot packed in since he had a short stint with the work­shop and the chore­og­ra­phy for SNDA.

His jour­ney with dance goes back to his early 20s. It was not al­ways dance that at­tracted Rooks. “Ini­tially I was into mu­sic and even went to Aus­tria to study mu­sic. My life changed when I at­tended an African-amer­i­can per­for­mance and it fas­ci­nated me. The men were strong and pow­er­ful, un­like the im­pres­sion one has about dance. I con­nected with the form. I had a mo­ment of ephiphany. I was drawn to it, and de­cided I had to do this and I be­gan learn­ing at 20,” re­mem­bers Rooks. Rooks would take dance classes at night to stay con­nected with dance and his life changed when a chore­og­ra­pher from New York saw him. “He was set­ting up a com­pany and in­vited me to ap­pren­tice. I took a chance and did well. Later I au­di­tioned at the Alvin Ailey, a pres­ti­gious dance school and got a full schol­ar­ship. From five classes I was tak­ing 18 classes a week. I lost 20 pounds in the first month. It was a great jour­ney,” says Rooks. Af­ter be­ing pro­moted, he then trav­elled with them for var­i­ous reper­toire per­for­mances. “Mean­while, I was also fol­low­ing the Martha Gra­ham tech­nique, and tak­ing classes at their school. Once Martha Gra­ham saw me and two months later they of­fered me a con­tract. I moved there and stayed with them for over a decade.”

At present, Rooks teaches chore­og­ra­phy, con­tem­po­rary and modern dance. “Dance is def­i­nitely an ex­pen­sive pas­sion – it in­volves a whole lot of cos­tumes, shoes for the dancer and in case of stage per­for­mance the tech­ni­cal as­pects and much more. When I pack for a work trip, I have my reg­u­lar clothes, my dance clothes, my shoes, my bal­let slip­pers, dance pants, socks and per­for­mance dancers keep buy­ing more as the stuff wears out,” laughs Rooks.

His ad­vice, “Start early. When you start late, you have to work hard. You are com­pet­ing with peo­ple who have started at 10!! One has to push as it’s in­tense, stren­u­ous and com­pet­i­tive.”

Rooks be­lieves that there’s great danc­ing in all peo­ple. It’s a pas­sion. It’s some­thing you feel from within that you must do. While New York of­fers a lot, Rooks be­lieves that some parts of Europe, and South Amer­ica, es­pe­cially Peru, also of­fer a lot to the field of new con­tem­po­rary dance.

Rooks loves In­dian food and the vibe of Mum­bai. It was his third trip to Mum­bai and he looks for­ward to many more.

Cel­e­brat­ing 10 years of SNDA

Rooks and Nagdev also planned and chore­ographed their per­for­mance to be held on 28th April called the TRIDHA - A Triple Bill Evening to cel­e­brate 10 years of the Acad­emy.

TRIDHA - A 90 minute evening will con­sist of 3 con­tem­po­rary dance pro­duc­tions will have:

Dhrut - A di­a­logue of Past, Present, Fu­ture & Time with a syn­chrony of rhythm, speed & space. Dashanan (pre­miere) - Sumeet’s solo per­for­mance chore­ographed for the first time by his Martha Gra­ham Dance School teacher/chore­og­ra­pher Steve Rooks. In­spired by Ra­vana, the per­for­mance is a hyp­no­sis of an Anti-hero in hind­sight not just mytho­log­i­cally but in present times. Sumeet’s last solo ’Talk­a­tive Dancer’ was tagged as ‘Po­etic & Philo­soph­i­cal’ by Dance Critic Leela Venkatara­man and trav­elled to many cities of Europe, Amer­ica and In­dia.

Knowl­edge with anx­i­ety, wis­dom with wicked­ness, and power with smug­ness char­ac­terise the chore­og­ra­phy of ‘Dashanan’. In­spired by Ra­mayana’s mytho­log­i­cal fig­ure Ra­vana (de­picted as a de­mon), Dashanan – the 10-headed, jour­neys through ten dis­tinct ide­olo­gies of Ra­vana imag­ined in the present that con­trasts him­self against the back­drop of a suc­cess­ful fail­ure. The move­ment vo­cab­u­lary is a mix of Gra­ham in­spired phys­i­cal­ity and Yak­sha­gana, an In­dian tra­di­tional theatre form that com­bines dance, mu­sic, di­a­logue, cos­tume, make up and stage tech­niques.

Tr­ishna - This pro­duc­tion is in­spired by the state­ment - ‘how women in a large sec­tion of the In­dian So­ci­ety are looked at?’. Its scenic in­ter­pre­ta­tion is in­spired by real life in­stances of a do­mes­tic helper and her hus­band (name undis­closed on re­quest).

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