Geetaji takes special care and interest in imparting the meaning and ideas underlying the lyrics her disciples learn.
There are some dancers who always enchant and mesmerise the audience with not only their perfected moves but also their divine beauty.
When a dancer plays the role or showcases the character of a Goddess, just looking at her the audience feel that the Devi would actually look just the way she did on stage, and it means that the dancer actually gave us a live darshan of the Goddess.
There is one such dancer who does just that. I am talking about the stunning Padma Shri Geeta Chandran. She is a celebrated artiset and star performer, whose name is synonymous with Bharatnatyam.
Recently called the “hottest dancer” of the capital in a survey by a renowned publication, this Saraswati Puruskar awardee started learning Bharatnatyam from the tender age of five under the guidance of her guru, Swarna Saraswathy who hailed from the traditional Thanjavoor Devadasi Parampara.
Geetaji is one artiste who not only uses what she has learnt under the guru shisya parampara but also enhances her art even more by using personal vision of dance in her performances.
In her shows and presentations she weaves abstract notions of joy, beauty, values, aspiration, myths and spirituality. She is celebrated for her deep and composite understanding of the art of Bharatnatyam and her Carnatic music — she is trained and accomplished vocalist.
Her work in television, video, film, theatre, choreography, dance education, dance activism and dance issue journalism has been greatly appreciated. No wonder an artiste like her has been given the title of ‘Outstanding Artist’ by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
I feel honoured to inform you that the elegant Geetaji and me have one thing in common: we are both recipients of the National Excellence Award, the only difference is she was given this honour in 2008 and I in 2016. Natya Vriksha, an organisation founded by her, enshrines the best philosophies of Indian classical culture.
At her institute she not only teaches practical dancing and its theory but also imparts knowledge of related fields like music, aharya (costuming and make-up), stage design and sound and light technology. Tamil and Telugu are mostly used in Bharatnatyam, and this language is alien to most of the students coming to Natya Vriksha. It is an uphill task to make them understand the nuances of these languages.
Geetaji takes special care and interest in imparting the meaning and ideas underlying the lyrics her disciples learn. She also familiarises her students with our ancient epics, legends and mythology, which form the foundation of the Indian classical dance experience.
Recently Natya Vriksha celebrated twenty-five glorious years with a show that mesmerised one and all. The show was aptly called Anekanta and was rooted in Jain philosophy, Anekanta recognises that there are multiple realities to every issue. The show celebrates acceptance of multiple truths, embracing diversity and of universal acceptance, portrayed through Bharatnatyam.
The performances were all guided by the intellectual inputs from scholar-author Sudhamahi Regunathan, who is a renowned Jain scholar. In her solo performance, Geetaji examined shades of Anekanta through choreography that explored the relationship of the word and meaning of many avataras; of many bhavas to a single text; of Ravana who gets mesmerised by every single aspect of Sita’s body and wonders if such is the power of each part, what would be the impact of the whole? And of Saint Tyagaraja who presents the cosmic view of inter-relatedness of existence. In the group dances, Geetaji viewed Anekanta through dramatic dance strategies like Alarippu presented in three speeds; of exploring grihabheda in movement; finding linkages between sounds and silence, of the many roopas of Devi, and of a little known viswaroopa of Vishnu that Arjuna encounters in the forests of Orissa and realises that the Navagunjara’s parts add up to the whole!
The music for this breathtaking production was designed by Geetaji in close collaboration with K. Venkateshwaran and Dr. S. Vasudevan. The lyrical music-space was further enhanced with rhythmic inputs by K. Sivakumar and Lalgudi Sri Ganesh adding verve and vibrancy to the show and was supported by a stellar crew of artistes. Sandhya Raman designed the vibrant costumes, Manish Kansara conceptualised the stage design and Sharad Kulshreshtha did the dramatic and very effective light design.
Anekanta aspires to bring valuable oxygen to the larger public discourse on identity. It is a powerful artistic statement of Natya Ratna Geetaji, who has moved tradition forward with her strategic performances.
After the performance, I asked Geetaji how she felt completing 25 years of teaching dance to people of all ages. The articulate dancer replied, “Sandip, teaching first generation learners with almost no background in Indian culture, has not only been a challenge but also a great learning process for me. Teaching means constant upgrading and unlearning at the same time. Students are constantly evolving and every few years one notices how they approach dance with different skill baskets.
One has to be aware of these realities while crafting the pedagogy. Also teaching has to be wide-angled, giving the students scope to explore all aspects of dance. Today, teaching can no longer be geared to creating performers alone. At Natya Vriksha, I try to create dancers plus!”
Geetaji is a rare combination a luminary and a visionary, who is a widely respected role model for the young generation. She guides reputed national cultural institutions and prestigious universities as their board member, and also serves on the advisory boards of several reputed schools and colleges all over India. Arts education is another of her impassioned commitments and she is an advocate for incremental arts education supporting both government and private initiatives to achieve a higher level of arts learning as part of formal education.
In her effort to “en-dance the universe”, she engages in a strategic range of dance-related activities: Performing, teaching, conducting, singing, collaborating, organising, writing and speaking to young audiences.
She is an artiste we all love and respect a lot, not only because she is beautiful and highly gifted and talented dancer but also because she has unconditionally given her life to educate youth with the finer nuances of dance and all the issues and subjects related to it. She is a guru, a mentor and a guide in the very true sense, who enriches the lives of every person who associates with her in anyway.
I salute the dedication, perseverance and determination of Geeta Chandran with a heartfelt pranam!
Sandip Soparrkar is a world-renowned ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement Award and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org