Spanda is 20! It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since that day in September 1995 in Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium, when I was on stage, in the darkness and silence, waiting. Waiting for the first strains of the music of ‘Aakash’ to begin, for the curtains to open, for the chatter of the audience to die down, for my heart to stop hammering. Waiting also, to share with the audience what we had been learning, experiencing, absorbing, practising. Wondering if we would manage to convey even half of all of that on stage that night.
Spanda’s journey had in fact begun months, years ago, in the classroom with Leela Akka. Often, she would begin class with adavus or combinations of adavus to work on technique before moving on to items. And because nothing Akka did in class was ever the same, every day, the same basic adavus would transform themselves magically. She would throw at us new techniques of delineating the same adavu, and new thoughts to think of while executing them: What would happen if you slowed this one down, or attempted that one starting from the middle instead of the beginning? What would happen if two dancers attempted this adavu as one person? New ideas, experiments and challenges were flying around the classroom each day. Most of us didn’t even realise that while we were learning and having fun, we were pushing the boundaries of the style in new, exciting, even radical ways. Slowly the choreography, the texts and the music began to take shape and the significance of the philosophy underpinning Spanda became clear to us.
Rehearsals often began and ended with lively conversations about what our dance meant to us individually, the style itself and where it was headed, solo versus group dynamics, different themes and texts for the pieces and then, as the day of the performance approached, costumes, lighting, publicity and even the challenge of finding sponsors who would not interfere with the aesthetics of the performance. These are problems dancers grapple with through their dance lives, and those conversations were invaluable lessons that helped each of us in our own careers going forward. The atmosphere was invigorating and inspiring in so many ways in those days just before the first concert. The memory of it stays fresh in my mind.
Spanda has travelled a fair distance in these two decades. Dancers have joined Spanda and then left to follow their own varied paths. Its works are constantly changing and evolving. Even old pieces, when revived, are refreshed by the dynamic of new dancers performing them. Some things, though, do remain the same: The democratic, hierarchy-free atmosphere of the company both on stage and off, the unshakeable belief in the traditional form while placing it in the contemporary arena, and the love we all share for the beauty of the style itself.
Spanda has given me great joy for the last 20 years and while we celebrate this anniversary, we hope we can share some of this joy with you.
Being one of the youngest and most junior dancers in the troupe at the time, I was both thrilled and terrified at the prospect of performing for and learning from Spanda. The unique pedagogic style that characterised Spanda was one that focussed on process and practice as much as it did on the final performance. Both were equally important and both mattered. Practice was an end in itself as much as it was an instrument of success. The essence of being ‘in sync’ on stage and off stage was foundational in the philosophy of Spanda and an important cause of my personal growth and learning. As a soloist, one feels a relationship with the music, the rhythm, the history; in Spanda, all this is overlain with a choreography that brings out the relationships between the dancers, binding them and freeing them. Spanda rediscovers and frees the dance as collective, as conjoined, as the vibrations of individual dancers blended together. This opened my eyes to what dance and cultural forms can learn from each other, not losing purity, and gaining beauty. We borrow strength and movement from other techniques and add them to our story-telling and our emotion. Pulses travel through the group; simple rhythmic cycles create complex patterns. In the collective, one can create exponentially; through the four years I danced with Spanda (2004-2008), I learnt that we can soar on wings we make together.
Dancing in Spanda for two years (2003-2005) was a tremendous growth spurt and a great privilege. It taught me many things, beyond the movements. For the first time, dancing with Akka in Spanda I became aware of how challenging, and how rewarding, it is, when dance and philosophy connect.
I had seen Akka and her gorgeous dancers performing Spanda in Delhi, and like most of the audience, left the auditorium with the music of 'Charishnu' buzzing in my mind for days after. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. To start with, I had simply never seen a group show of Indian dance where the main dancer did not put herself in the centre of the choreography! In Spanda, every dancer actually plays an equally important role, whether they are on stage for 5 minutes, or 50 minutes. The dance is greater than the sum of its parts.
There is a funny moment I will never forget- On a long train journey, while all of us dancers sat together chatting, Akka suddenly noticed my vanity case which was a purple box that stood out from the rest. She asked to take a look inside. I gave it to her. I had not cleaned it. She peered at the mess of pink powders, black kajal stains, and red alta marks inside the box. With a poker face, she silently handed it back to me. From then on, I always keep my make up kit immaculately clean and ready for inspection even when she is not around! This was one of many long-lasting lessons!
"Spanda is where I discovered who I am. For me, Spanda and Leela akka are not different. I never considered it like a dance company. It was always a learning experience for me. However much I learn, I always feel there is so much more to know. Spanda has given me the vision to think, to work and to appreciate not only dance, but who I am. I am really fortunate that I belong to Spanda and to you, dearest Akka".
Spanda- lots and lots of laughter, monkeying around, learning to eat bananas, hectic hard work, sore muscles accompanied by fat tears and along the way finding the mind and heart so open and ready to LIVE. In one word- growing up!!!
I sat in the audience watching magic unfold on stage as Leela masi and Spanda took us through the most joyous journey of my life. Covered with goosebumps feeling the waves of unending, adoring applause sweep through the audience toward the stage, I wished I could feel the joy the dancers felt, being part of this experience. When I did join Spanda for a short time, it was the most beautiful time for me as a dancer. Being the youngest in the group it was a bit daunting but being given the opportunity to learn and be part of this wonderful process was a dream come true. Thank you so much Leela masi for giving that to me.
" Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing" - Theodore Roosevelt
I wish to thank acca from the bottom of my heart for believing in me and giving me an opportunity to be a part of "Spanda" family , strongly bound by love and always in my thoughts where each dancer was different yet unison. Miss each one of you for fun times, learning, early practices, travel, food .... Good wishes to "Spanda 20".
My most vivid first impression of seeing Spanda is of figures flying across the stage and the music shifting and changing in unexpected ways. It took my mind time to understand what my eyes were watching with delight. There was stillness at the heart of it all and I could not quite grasp the quicksilver formations and patterns that unfolded before me.
That sense of an indrawn breath, of trying to encompass something that is just out of reach endures, no matter how often I watch Spanda performances. It has transmuted and grown since that first performance twenty years ago, yet it continues to draw me into a space which remains tantalisingly just out of my mind's eye. Philosophy and physicality mingle in this space and as they do so, the mind is enlarged.
A sense of being connected to a higher sense of being lingers after the performance ends. Snatches of the music continue to sing softly in my ears. I want to watch it again, even in rehearsal, because the beauty of the forms transcend the transient glamour of a stage performance.
To me, Spanda epitomises dance as prayer, as an acknowledgement of the sacred in our lives, beyond religion and denomination.