Dance is to me what white is to light – inseparable, no matter what’s in its way.
By dancing, there is oneness with time and space, where rhythm is as important as the silences in between. No matter the style, the dancer reacts to music and the world around, capturing through nuance, what at times coincides and collides perfectly to produce the “wow-factor”.
My relationship with dance began early in life. I waited outside my sister’s dance class only to reproduce the same movements outside - often times having mirrored her movements later at home. Eventually, my parents approached her teacher to induct me in to the same training. With time, this connection with dance became stronger, though the opportunity to further these ties has actually waned – by this, I mean that I can no longer devote the kind of time I would like to present new work.
Then the Tsunami of 2004 happened. My world changed. I was so profoundly affected by the utter devastation and started to react by creating a dance-homage. A few months later, with equal vigor, Katrina ensued. By then, there were people displaced on both sides of the globe and I found a registry of displaced artists from New Orleans . After making initial contact, I went down to this “near-Atlantis” and approached a modern dancer to collaborate in a homage dedicated to the victims of both the Tsunami and Katrina, to explore the commonalities of what they suffered and the intercultural exchange such an idea would generate. It is funny that the sole purpose of this exercise was healing; mine in the first instance and then those who would be a part the program. Finally, if people who were affected could somehow watch this dedication, perhaps they too might have been afforded some kind of redemption. In August 2006, Ocean of Light , dance production dedicated to remembrance and rebirth for the victims of these epic disasters was performed. The program was debuted in my new-home city of New York and then traveled down to New Orleans . Though I wore many hats for this event – concept, choreography, grant-applicant, dancer, tour organizer, chauffer, butler, custodian, and the like, it was only after the program was over did I reflect on what I enjoyed the most – to dance.
The medium I chose is Bharata Natyam, steeped in tradition that has its origins of technique from the Natya Shastra. The dance form existed as a temple ritual but became a part of the social fabric to narrate mythology and legends, later going through painful times during pre-independent prudence of the British colonial era and finally being resurrected and finding a grand stage in practically every second home in the South and now the rest of India. In the US and elsewhere, the fervor for young kids to study Bharata Natyam is unwavering. This has taken a toll on some aspects of dance, namely quality work that takes years of learning in favor of a much hastier, instant version that parents can delight in “on demand” for unsuspecting friends and family. So my kind of dancing is here to stay. It is beautiful, rich and profound. But its message is simple. In the words of Kalidasa, the epic poet from the 5th century, he says, “Dance alone is the one medium that can cater to diverse tastes and for many people at one given time”.
I now use my dance to explore themes that need social politicization – recently having danced at a festival on gender and sexuality at the Lincoln center, trying to understand and be sensitive to issues central to the theme of equality. My work was performed as a duet to a poem by Abraham Cowley that questioned love in every aspect as being no less than the conventional form. So love to a child gets equal weight as that of a gay lover. It is hard to believe but some of my movements were borne of an earlier morally charged dance production that I performed with a brilliant dancer from Ahmedabad , India on Gandhi’s philosophy and interpretations of his letters. The program called Mahatma – from Truth to Enlightenment premiered at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Gandhi Jayanthi of 2003. I have become passionate about using my dancing for socially relevant themes, but at the same time, not forgetting the need for the artistic merits of any work being at the forefront of the creative process.
I have successfully made the transition from dancer to dancer lover and now see dance through the eyes of my four year old daughter. Perhaps I will return to creating something new and not wait till the next catastrophe, for is it not the every day things in life that are worth the celebration?
Sanjay Doddamani, MD
Department of Cardiology
North Shore University Hospital