Indian classical dance now a global heritage
New Delhi: Once confined to temples, Indian classical dance is crossing the seas, creating new cross-cultural idioms and churning out foreign exponents.
Classical dancers of foreign origin say genres like bharatanatyam, kathak and mohiniattam have become fashion, wellness and cultural statements among GenNext in Southeast Asia and in the West because of their heritage and mystic pull.
Kuchipudi, a traditional dance from Andhra Pradesh that was conferred classical status a few years ago, is finding a slow but steady following among serious dance aficionados.
Indian classical dance is riding on the surge of the diaspora population, one of the largest worldwide. They are passing the tradition to the local non-Indian populace as part of the cultural osmosis post-globalisation.
"We have a large established Indian population in Southeast Asia that is closely connected to India. The Indians living in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia consider themselves to be a part of greater India and classical dances are a part of their lives," Ramli Ibrahim, one of the best-known exponents in Malaysia of bharatanatyam and odissi, told reporters.
"Indian culture is trying to broaden its perspective and transcend the barriers of both India and diaspora," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim and student January Low were in India to perform at an International Dance Festival organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
Ibrahim, a dancer of Islamic origin who has trained in classical ballet, modern dance and Indian classical dance, likes to explore "modern culture from an Asian perspective".
As a teacher of bharatanatyam and odissi, Ibrahim has groomed some of the finest dancers in Malaysia at his Sutra Dance Theatre and at the same time placed Indian classical dance in the context of the Malaysian experience.
Low, a danseuse of Chinese-Malayali origin, teaches bharatanatyam to more than 200 students in Malaysia.
"My father encouraged me to learn bharatanatyam and odissi from guru Ramli Ibrahim when I was 15," she said.
Low said the large Tamil and Malayali diaspora in Southeast Asia has contributed to the popularity of the genres in the Orient. "Earlier, bharatanatyam topped the popularity charts but odissi has now jumped into the wagon," Low, a native of Kuala Lumpur, told IANS.
She is helping propagate the dance forms across the world. "I spend most of my time touring the world with my troupe of seven bharatanatyam and odissi dancers," she said.
The Tribhangi Dance Theatre of South Africa, directed by Jayasperi Moopen, fuses Indian bharatanatyam with Afro dances for new cross-cultural choreographies.
"Kathak will soon become a part of the curriculum at the Beijing Dance Academy in October this year," said Zhang Jinghui, a kathak dancer from China.
The dancer, who presented a kathak recital in the capital Aug 4, said her "guru Ashok Chakraborty - who teaches kathak to more than 300 Chinese children across the country - will instruct learners at the academy".
"The ICCR has been the force behind popularising kathak and bharatanatyam in China that till five years ago identified Indian dance with the ones shown in Bollywood movies," she said.
"Chinese dancers love the speed of kathak," she added.
Irina Strakhovenko, a kuchipudi dancer from Russia, said: "The relatively low-key traditional dance from Andhra Pradesh is gradually finding practitioners in Russia and across Europe. The genre has been slow to journey out of the country."
"Kuchipudi has everything - it combines the grace of odissi, the perfection of bharatanatyam and the speed of kathak," she told reporters.
Anne Dietrick teaches mohiniattam, a traditional genre from Kerala, in German universities. "I conduct at least 30 workshops a year," the exponent, who trained at the Kerala Kala Mandalam, told reporters.
Bharatanatyam and kuchipudi dancer Kaushalya Reddy of the Raja-Radha-Kaushalya Reddy trio says the whole world is attracted to Indian dance along with Indian clothes, fashion and cuisine.
"The country`s rich culture and spiritual health draw people. In the US, almost every street has a kuchipudi dance school," Reddy told reporters.