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Making Bharata Natya Child-Friendly
by Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra

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Location: Montreal, Quebec

PostPost title: Making Bharata Natya Child-Friendly
Posted: Sat 17 Jan, 2004 11:54 am
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Making Bharata Natya Child-Friendly

Workshop given by Mamata Niyogi-Nakra
Dance and the Child International Conference, Regina
July 31 -August 5, 2000

In addition to her general participation at the Conference, Mamata Niyogi-Nakra gave two workshops (August 3 &4) on the topic of “Making Bharata Natya Child Friendly”. The first day’s participation was by young dancers and the second day’s by adults. On both days approximately 30 persons participated.

The fact that the age groups were so clustered was purely coincidental, but taking advantage of this, Mamata oriented her material and activities accordingly. She was assisted in her presentation by two senior students of her dance school in Montreal, Alexandra Van Veeren and Bhava Thamotharan, who had accompanied her to participate at the conference, and by Rosa Mirijello-Haynes, a dance teacher based in Regina, specializing in the Kathak style of Indian dance. Ms. Mirijello-Haynes had earlier given a workshop on Kathak.

The objective of the workshops was to demonstrate the basic elements of Bharata Natya and to show how the training and presentation could be tailored to be appropriate for young dancers and audiences, both physically and emotionally. On the second day, given the presence of adults, many of whom were teachers and mature dancers, Mamata highlighted some aspects of Bharata Natya that could contribute to the development of some intelligences in children with reference to the theory of Multiple Intelligences by psychologist Howard Gardner.

The workshops were structured as follows:

1. Setting the cultural context

All participants, on arrival, were given a “bindi”(a decorative dot to be put on the forehead), a typical Indian make-up element and were asked to remove their shoes before stepping on to the dance area, which helped define the culture-specificity of what was to follow.

Two rituals were then explained and performed by the participants:

    a. The bhumi pranam, which is a salutation to mother earth and through which the dancers seek her permission to stamp on her.
    b. The guru pranam which is a salutation to the gurus(masters) through whom all knowledge and the tradition of the art form have been passed from one generation to another.

These two salutations help to center the dancers and also prepare them mentally to apply themselves to the task at hand.

2. Introduction to the basic elements of the dance

After demonstrating and asking the participants to learn the following:

Stance and placement of hands,
Foot positions and rhythmic cycles,
Hand gestures and facial expressions,
Narration and mime,

    a. A few of the basic movements called ‘adavu’ were taught to the participants to get a feel of how the dance movements are executed in Bharata Natya.
    b. The concept of rhythmic cycles was introduced through changes of foot positions and body movements. Beat cycles of 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 were introduced at three different speeds, slow, medium and fast. Concepts of space were introduced through diagonal and circular movements while encouraging participants to explore Bharata Natya dance movements under conditions of varying space availabilities. As well, participants executed dance movements to the various beat cycles.
    c. Different hand gestures were shown and their significance explained. By showing the narrative role of hand gestures, the participants were introduced to the story-telling aspect of Bharata Natya. Printed sheets showing some of the gestures were given out for reference later. The participants were led through some basic phrases of the Bharata Natya language.
    d. The techniques available in Bharata Natya for the expression of various emotions using different facial expressions were described. The nine rasas (sentiments) of Indian aesthetic theory were introduced. As an example of child friendly themes, a simple doll story was enacted using the nine rasas.

3. Choreographic creativity using Bharata Natya movements

    a. A demonstration was made of how movements could be set to interpret a given piece of music. Then, dividing the group into three small units, the participants were asked to compose their own stories based on some of the elements that had been practised. An evocative piece of Indian music was played to encourage them to create a short piece with a storyline. With the help of the animators and hand-outs distributed to all the participants, each of the units came up with imaginative and interesting works with transparent and lucid story lines that others watching it unfold found, easy to interpret.
    b. Based on a piece of music called PRANAM from the CD “INDIA” composed by Robert Lafond, a Quebec musician, the groups learnt and performed a short choreography incorporating the Bhumi and Guru pranams, as a fitting finale to the workshop.

4. Feedback

Happily sporting the bindi (decorative dot on the forehead) the participants enthusiastically expressed how much fun it was to learn Bharata Natya and particularly to create the short pieces using facial expressions, hand gestures and narrative movements from the dance style. Also heard was the remark that they were glad they got the opportunity to move their bodies and dance rather than listen to some description or see others perform.

An invitation from Dr. Susan Graham, Coordinator of a Conference in New Zealand, who attended the workshop, has been received in an official letter dated Aug 10, 2000:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Australia-New Zealand Dance Research Society to invite you to give a presentation at the Dance Research Forum between the 19th and 22nd October 2001 in Auckland New Zealand. Your reputation and work has impressed the committee of the society and we would very much like to hear more about your research and work....................We would be very honoured if you could attend this event and present.

Here are some other comments received from the participants:

    * Anne Green Gilbert, Artistic Director of KALEIDOSCOPE (Seattle, USA):
    It was such a pleasure meeting you in Regina and participating in your inspiring workshop!

    * Kathleen Kampa Vilina, Dance Specialist, Siesen International School (Tokyo, Japan):
    It would be interesting to have you give this workshop in our school in Tokyo.

    * Marlies Juffermans, Centre for Amateur Dance (Utrecht, Netherlands):
    Found the workshop so interesting that she has video’d the whole process to present it as part of her project on How to Make Traditional Arts More Accessible. She had an extensive interview with Mamata after the workshop.

    * Rosa Mirijello Haynes, teacher of Kathak at The Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Regina:
    Enjoyed very much being part of the workshop and helping out the participants with creating the short piece.

    * Silvia Geraldi, Dance Professor (Sao Paula, Brazil):
    You must do this at the next daCi Conference in 2003 in Brazil.

    * Suzi Hock Lovell, Director of IMPUDANCE (Montreal):
    My girls enjoyed the workshop so much they would like to continue having some kind of interaction with your group on return to Montreal.

    * Anne Hutchison Guest, who was also present at the workshop, spoke briefly but eloquently on her experience with learning Indian dance and found the workshop reminding her of that.

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