Avant-Exposure #2: The Beauty of Shantala Shivalingappa

Photograph by Rodrigo Cesar

I’ve been yearning to write about classical Indian dance since I started this blog. I only just got the chance to really sit and reflect on one of my favorite contemporary blended dancers, Shantala Shivalingappa.

I’m using this photo as a jumping off point for the dancer herself. I love how the photographer, Rodrigo Cesar, captured her exuberance in dance and music with one simple, saturated photo.  But I’m taking this one step further by looking into her more recent and current exhibit, Play, and how her classical Indian training amplifies every single aspect of her dancing life.

*warning: a lot of videos are embedded in this post. I couldn’t help myself in showing her movement, not just writing about it!

“My initial intention was to dance outside of India, to make Kuchipudi known outside.”

Shivalingappa’s kutchipudi is exquisite. From the Youtube videos I hunt down every summer, I’ve seen nothing short of dedicated mastery of an artform with rich history. Yet, this lithe woman creates works of art that are drenched with both classical and contemporary dance vocabulary.

She was born in Chennai, India (South India) and grew up in Paris, France- naturally, I am drawn to her as a person already. Her dancing master in kutchipudi was Master Vempati Chinna Satyam. As a teenage she also took classes with Maurice Béjart and Pina Bausch. This is important to note because I think the inspiration, the pure wisdom one dancer can receive from a teacher, coach, master of dance is vital to the new generations of serious professional dancers.

We can see how she took from her past master/teachers and then injected her own style reflecting her West-meets-East present, blending the generations and art. Now, Shivalingappa tours and holds workshops for kutchipudi training across the globe. She is an articulate performer and human being, never doubting the intrinsic power of dance.

Her exhibit Play with fellow dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is extreme unique and inspiring. The two humans onstage function as a whole and unite in sound and action to perform a dance unlike many other dances performed today. Musicians take a large focus in this piece, as they do in classical Indian dance forms. A blending of including the sound into the experience is also added with the shock of speech and lyrics. Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa interact vocally to compliment their detailed physical movements.

For the past four years these two artists have been performing this one art work, exposing the world to an experience in the theater that is linked to the history of classical Indian dance forms. It takes a vivid personality and a strong strength in dexterity to pull off a kutchipudi dance. That is translated successfully with Play, and exemplified further with contemporary and modern dance twists and turns from both artists.

“I try to apply myself to the task at hand. It’s a very artisan kind of way. What you can do is learn the craft, but I myself don’t know what I’m capable of.”

I’m also thrilled when I found out Shantala Shivalingappa is going on a new adventure in dance. I can’t wait to find out what 2015 has to hold for her. And I hope that one day I can experience being an audience member in her live performances.

(Below is my personal favorite of hers)


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