Spanda was born out of a need to express myself in the multiple energies of more than one dancer, as against the solo option that existed and that I practiced at the time. I did not wish to explore the format of the dance drama, of which also I had been a part and knew so well. Rukmini Devi, the founder of Kalakshetra was the most adept choreographer of that genre, taking inspiration from traditional dance drama genres like the Melattur Bhagavatamela and Kuravanji traditions of the South; but who then transformed these into inspiring modern day dance dramas with all the finesse of a master craftsman.
Instead, I wished to see the dancers I was teaching engage in a less self-centric form than the solo, without the need to convert all performance or story-telling into a male-female construct wherein the protagonist was usually the female pining for union with the male-deity, with less paraphernalia to carry onstage in terms of dress and ornamentation and last but not least, breaking from the clichéd frontal, made-for-the-proscenium-stage presentations that the soloist conformed to.
To liberate oneself from both the solo and the dance drama form was a heady departure into the unknown. I already had a vision of what I wished to do with nritta. But how would I tackle abhinaya for a group? Is the dance whole without this aspect? These were on my mind from the start. I concentrated on the body as a finely tuned instrument of expression. I also insist on an engagement with the text, with the music and the lighting – all the things that make for a great performance. But most important, was the dancer and her engagement with the dance. I used the male dancer and the female dancer with equal verve, using the energies of both to do both the rigorous and the graceful – without bias.
I also broke from hierarchical structures in the themes we chose, as well as within the company. In Spanda, no one dancer has a role that stands out as pivotal, as in the hero-heroine oriented stories that we are used to presenting. In order to achieve this, I had to choose from pre-vedic texts that were universal in spirit; inclusive rather than exclusive, that was about nature and primal energies, rather than about kings or celestial beings with superior, more sophisticated skills than others about him. We had to break from the hierarchical structures that existed in myth, but also in dance companies where some dancers carried the show and the others were relegated to props.
I had in 1995 a group of young dancers whom I believed were ready to handle the change. We launched ourselves in September that year, with a performance at Kamani Auditorium, Delhi that was hailed as ‘path-breaking’. For ten years thereafter the group took on various shapes and sizes, depending upon the dancers available to me. From 2005-2012, Spanda was on sabbatical while I forsake it to look after Kalakshetra.
Since 2012, we have revived ourselves with gusto and perform worldwide and in India, as a cohesive and well-knit group, doing performances of the abstract and symbolic, of the traditional and contemporary, without forsaking the vocabulary of bharata natyam that we so love.
Spanda is 20! We would love for you to see us and engage with our thoughts.