Reflections on Choreography

One of the deepest pleasures in my life as a dancer is choreography. Many a time the choreography is spontaneous, as when I hear a song, and the body, mind and heart spontaneously begin to dance in expression of the song. Many other times it is in response to a request from a student, who asks me to choreograph a piece specially for her/him. My choreography is then tailored to the specific needs of the student, their age, and our joint goal of reaching their very best. However, this choreography does not come out of a void. It comes from the teaching and techniques that my Gurus have given me, which I have then worked on honing and to which I have added my own my own nuances. These Gurus are not just our living Gurus, in my case: Guru Dakshinamoorthy Pillai, Guru US Krishna Rao and Guru Chandrabhaga Devi. We also learn a great deal when we watch a dance recital. We also grow as we teach.

At one point the teacher alone was the source of knowledge. Nowadays, students too are exposed to the world of dance through Youtube, and hence may bring their own flavor or technique to their dance from something they have watched. This flavor too finds its way into the choreography. For instance, I presented two of my students in an arangetram this year. I choreographed for them the Varnam, Chalemela, that they requested. They also requested that I choreograph the Shiva Bhasmaasura episode in that Varnam. I did, and taught it to them. However, they presented their own version of that episode when we next met. On further inquiry, I realized that they had worked on that episode by watching the masterful presentation of Bhasmasura and Mohini by the Narsimhacharis. They asked if they could keep that choreography, as they had practiced and internalized it. I agreed and asked that they acknowledge that particular segment as coming from the Narsimhacharis in their arangetram recital. They danced the entire margam and in particular, the varnam well. I am proud of their performance and wish them well. It delights me to see my students grow into their skills and talents as dancers. The years of learning basic dance units/adavus, jathis, and nuances of abhinaya come together when they are now able to incorporate and acknowledge many styles and techniques other than the living Guru from whom they are learning.