Song of Surrender

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bharatanatyam in Brussels

Students of Nada Brahma
In the past decade, much of Belgium has woken up to the undeniable presence of India – not only in the political and economic, but also in the cultural scene. Although largely influenced by Bollywood films (big banner releases worldwide also happen in Brussels and Antwerp multiplexes simultaneously), the sheer increase in the number of globetrotting Indians opting to live in this tiny country for short periods of one to three years or more, meant avenues to pursue Indian art and culture were more visibly sought by these expats. Exposure to the “exotic” culture by way of Indian neighbours or increased travel to the Indian subcontinent and easy access to information by Westerners have piqued their interest and involvement in some truly ethnic forms of Indian music and dance. The Europalia festival in 2014, featuring Indian music and dance legends performing all over Belgium also did much to help the cause. While the South Asian dance scene is more pervasive and quite mainstream in neighbouring Netherlands with its large Surinamese population with Indian roots, the Belgian community is discovering the Indian community as not only highly skilled professionals for the labour market, but also with an enriching art and culture heritage.

Today there are at least a bunch of schools for Indian music and dance run by either Indians/ Asians (clicmusic – Sangit School Brussels for Hindustani music; Artlounge9 – for primarily Bollywood based and semiclassical dance) or by Westerners who have taken to the vibrancy of India’s cultural palate (Mayasapera dance company specialising in a variety of classical dance forms of India, and Bollywood fare as well). One such school – Nada Brahma – run by the Belgian guru Eric Rozen specialising in Bharatanatyam recently held its annual dance event Natya Mala in Palais du Midi in Brussels.

Eric Rozen himself has been active on the Belgo dance and music scene for over 20 years. Once he witnessed his first guru Monica Kunz’s Bharatanatyam performance there was no turning back for him he says. She introduced him to her own guru, the Bangalore-based dancer Nirupama of the Nirupama-Rajendra dancing couple fame, from whom he still learns regularly.

Alone and with many of his students, Eric has visited Nirupama’s school to train under the watchful eyes of the accomplished artist for many years in a row. Nirupama also visited Belgium in 2013 on the behest of the dance school to conduct a workshop. Many senior students of the school have given private programmes ranging from conducting beginners workshops to Indian community-organised events including for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels in March 2016.

The choreographies in Natya Mala 2016 were by Eric’s own gurus with minor adaptations done at Brussels. The students of the school are a truly international mix coming from Japan, China, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Belgium and India, ranging in age from seven to until you can move your limbs in a coordinated fashion for the adavus. Which also means varied competency levels and skills of the participating students.

The programme opened with a pushpanjali in Arabhi, followed by the alarippu, jatiswaram in Kanada, and Natesa Kavuttuvam in Hamsadhwani. The heavy pieces of varnam in Natakurinji and a tillana in Kathanakutoohalam were performed by many senior dancers whose years of experience shone brilliantly. In an effort to confirm to a classic margam, with a specific sequence of dances with increasing difficulty and stamina level showcasing the repertoire of the dancers, the Belgian guru did manage to give space and exposure to every student of the school given their different levels of expertise.

You need to discount the fact that abhinaya relating to many Indian mythological stories is not easy for many Westerners to emote who have not grown up listening to or watching these play out in every corner of India. But what was palpable in all the students was their enthusiasm and effort in learning an intensive, rigorous, traditional, religion-based classical dance form so foreign to them and presenting it to the audience, many of whom had probably never seen a Bharatanatyam performance before. The performance in the next years would benefit from more sponsorships and promotion, more coordinated outfits of the dancers and a real theatrical stage considering that the classicism of this art form is no less than the European Ballet.

Brussels grows an inch with every non-Western performance and is heading to be on par with many other international cities, appealing to a truly cosmopolitan crowd and giving space and nourishment for music and dance expressions from lands far too east and ignored for too long. 

JYOTHSNA KRISHNAN
(A student of dance)

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