dance artist in residence, presented a lecture demonstration on South Indian
Court dance and the grandeur of the Tanjavur Quartet in India Dec. 31.
(Photo by Cylla von Tiedmann)
Keeping on His Toes: Dancer Performs Indian Dance at Music
|Q: Hari, when did
you come to Wesleyan as an artist in residence in dance?
A: July 1, 2001. I teach courses on not only traditional Bharatanatyam dance technique but
also lecture on the post colonial experience as well as on the global
contemporary manifestations of the South Asian dance. Bharatanatyam is the
classical dance from South India. Bharatanatyam historically evolved in the
royal city of Tanjavur, South India in the nineteenth century. The grounded
technique of Bharatanatyam dance or abstract dance is based on principles of
symmetry, geometry and precision. The abhinaya or mime is based on a highly
sophisticated integration of hand gestures, text, music and subtly of facial
Q: What are your thoughts on the Wesleyan students?
A: I have, and continue to have, a truly enriching experience teaching this
form at Wesleyan in both its classical and contemporary contexts. The
students are extremely bright and hardworking. They are my source of
inspiration. I always try to bring an exciting intellectual and artistic
curiosity, exploration and adventure into my class.
Q: You recently performed at The Music Academy, one of India's
premiere dance and music institutions Dec. 31. What did you do there?
A: I performed and gave a lecture demonstration on South
Indian Court dance and the grandeur of the Tanjavur Quartet, the 19th
century codifiers of Bharatanatyam dance as we know it now.
Q: Who do you study under?
A: One of my teachers is Guru Gopalakrishnan Pillai. He comes form Indiaís
most distinguished family of hereditary Bharatanatyam teachers.
Gopalakrishnan received training the hereditary technique and repertoire of
the Tanjavur Quartet. For many years, he taught music and dance in
Bangalore. For a past several years, he has lived in Chennai, where he
provides master-classes in Tanjavur Quartet repertoire at Tapasya Kala
Sampradaya. After death of my primary teacher Kittapa Pillai in 1999, I
continue to train under Gopalakrishnan Pillai. He is being given the
prestigious TTK award and the Music Academy has given me the rare honor of
dancing his familyís legacy.
Q: What other awards have you received?
A: I have been the recipient of several choreographic grants from various
arts councils such as The Canada Council for the Arts, The Laidlaw
Foundation, The MSR Arts Foundation, The Ontario Arts Council and The
Toronto Arts Council. I was also nominated for the 2002 Bonnie Bird North
American Choreography Award instituted by The Laban Centre in London. In
2001, I was invited by the University of Minnesota as the Sage Cowles Land
Grant Chair to create a work on the dance department. I am also regularly
invited to conduct master classes in technique, repertoire, history and
theory at institutions and conservatories in various parts of North America
Q: Where else in
the world have you performed, taught or choreographed?
A: My earliest choreography was presented in Singapore in 1988. It continues
to draw critical acclaim in Canada, the United States of America, India,
Malaysia and Singapore. My choreography has been featured by dancers of
Indian, Modern, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Ballet disciplines. In 1997,
I was also the first Canadian dancer to have been commissioned to mount a
piece on a dance company in India. My choreography has been featured in
several festivals and venues including the Singapore International Festival
of Arts, Danceworks Mainstage, The Can-Asian International Dance Festival,
Kalanidhi Dance Festival in Toronto, Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa, the
Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., the Canadian Museum of
Civilization in Quebec, the University of Minnesota, St. Mark's Dance Space
in New York, Rubin Museum of Art in New York and Tangente in Montreal.
Q: Is Bharatanatyam a rare, specialized dance or is it recognized most
places you travel and perform?
A: Based on my experiences, Bharatanatyam, when properly taught or
presented, has the unique ability to cut across cultural, social, religious
and political barriers making it a truly universal dance. Its ability to be
simultaneously classical and contemporary makes it apealing for a western
student of dance to enter the form with ease and comfort. I always feel for
any classical artform to be relevant, the student has to have an informed
comprehension of the context of the form, its indigenous development as well
as it global manifestation in both its source country as well as in the
Diaspora. I feel fortunate to be in a unique place to be a practioner of
both classical and experimental Bharatanatyam.
Q: Do you enjoy dancing or teaching more?
A: I equally enjoy performing, choreographing, teaching and researching. I
try and bring a holistic approach to my art.
Q: What do your dances represent?
A: Over the past 10 years, I have been creating a unique dance language that
expresses my unique Canadian/Indian/Singaporean identity. In South India,
there are female courtesans known as devadasis, males from the royal house
used to learn dance from the male dance masters called nattuvanars. My
representations of devadasi repertoire are thus stylized abstractions that
call attention to the language of desire, eroticism and love once spoken by
devadasi women, and today silenced by their disappearance. I have studied
the devadasi community for over a decade, and over the years have integrated
their aesthetic sensibilities and abstraction of human feelings into my own
performances. Adhering to this tradition, as a male dancer, I sometimes
interpret female roles. The Bharatanatyam dancer today, irrespective of
gender, fluidly interprets these universal feelings in an almost androgynous
trans-gendered manner and has a responsibility to continue maintaining the
dignity and integrity of this great tradition.
Q: Where did you receive your degrees and in what?
A: I hold a bachelorís of arts degree in linguistics and Asian studies from
the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, a masterís degree in religion and
philosophy from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg and finally a masterís
of arts degree in dance from York University in Toronto. My modern dance
training includes classes with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the School of
Toronto Dance Theatre and the Singapore Ballet Academy.
Q: What are some of your current projects?
A: I am at present working with Canadian modern dance legend Margie Gillis
who is creating a solo for me to be premiering in 2006-7. I am constantly
working with internationally respected choreographers. My research areas
include colonialism, post-colonialism and Indian dance, globalization and
the arts of India, modernism in Bharatanatyam and the history of devadasi
dance traditions in Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh, South India. I conduct
ethnographic fieldwork on a regular basis in South India, with a particular
focus on the Tanjavur, Cudappah, Madurai and Pudukottai districts in Tamil
Nadu, and the Krishna, East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra
Pradesh. My research brings together several interpretive and theoretical
approaches, as it integrates the disciplines of performance studies,
anthropology, history and gender studies.
Q: Tell me about the Toronto-based dance company inDANCE.
http://www.indance.ca is my company. It is a South Asian dance company
established in 1999 as a vehicle to encompass the entire range of my
creative output: choreography, performance, touring and teaching. The
primary mandate of inDANCE is to form creative partnerships with Canadian
and international collaborators, including choreographers, dancers,
musicians, designers, scholars and presenters. I am always commuting back
and forth between Toronto and Middletown in addition to my international
Q: Do you have a significant other and family?
A: My partner and soul-mate Rex who is an interior and costume designer,
continues to inspire and fuel all my creative and artistic endeavors. He is
also my harshest and most constructive critic which makes me the luckiest
dance artist in whole world! My two nephews Sanjay and Kirin are my pride
and joy and I am extremely attached to them.
Q: What other activities do you enjoy?
A: I am a movie buff, watching a plethora of films, from art movies to
commercial cinema. I loved the recent Harry Potter movie as well as the
brilliant adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice." I cannot wait for Peter
Jackson's "King Kong!" I am constantly drawn to contemporary pop culture,
which I always bring to my art. I feel this makes my art relevant and
accessible and for me that is extremely important. I never want my art to
become a stagnant museum showpiece - that is dangerous for any artist.
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection