The Art Form

The art form which I work with is Bharatanatyam one of eight classical dance forms of India, and the most recognizable. Dance is one of the most ancient means of spiritual expression in India and embodies music, dance, drama, poetry and mythology to create a highly stylized artistic endeavor. For me Bharatanatyam, is pure joy and abandonment – an abandonment within a defined form and the freedom to express through both music and dance. I see Bharatanatyam as a beautiful and engaging art form that combines athleticism, drama, and beauty as well as the ability to see and feel deeply. I am inspired by the connection to unspoken feelings and the drama of desire. I enjoy seeing a dancer who is living through the dance, where the dancer has totally surrendered and committed unto it, where each fingertip holds emotional intensity, and where there is virtually no difference between the dancer and what is being danced. I also see connections between the dance and the larger artistic environment in which the dance has developed – from the poetry, literature, mythology and temple sculpture. I try to relate this to our modern global outlook, where the themes and movements are foreign, yet familiar, and where the emotions are universal.

My performance of Bharatanatyam is rooted in the traditional, yet with accessibility to new audiences. The themes I present, whether they are of emotions or a more mythological and symbolic nature, including stories of Indian gods and goddesses, are universal in meaning. Though the dance is rooted in the Hindu faith, it also takes on a secular quality as the emotive aspects describe day-to-day life in India as the poets have written – from tilling the wheat, to cleaning the house, to adorning the statues of the gods.

The work that I create first arises from the music that I hear. The dance is based on the Indian classical form known as Carnatic music with a richness and complexity of melody and rhythm. Much of the songs are written by poet-composers who had a deep devotion to the spiritual practice and philosophy behind Hinduism and who also felt that everyday life and activities had a relationship to the divine. Much of the themes of Bharatanatyam depict the state of anticipation between the dancer/devotee and her desire for union with her lord. The Lord and devotee are personified on earth as the female lover (devotee) and her beloved (the Lord). The poet would write a song with a certain mood in mind vis-à-vis her lord, whether she is jealous, troubled, sorrowful, etc., and this forms the narrative basis of the dance.

In 'Swarupa: Infinite Form,' the Indian dancer Sonali Skandan rises above the pull-and-tug of history…Skandan and her dancers are never less than correct
NJ Star Ledger