Sunday, 3 August 2014

"Dance of Bliss" And "The Space Between The Notes"

I requested Heather Lewis to provide insights about her, her dance and yes, about her books on the subject of Indian Classical Dance. I am grateful to her as she graciously accepted and promptly provided the information. Her introduction is provided in the later part. She is indeed a culture ambassador for India and South Africa :)

Here she speaks- 

 "Currently I am writing a book called 'The Space Between the Notes (about 150 pages) based on my study of the Natya Sastra (in translation - but referring to more than one recension) and a main aim is to encourage dancers, especially in South Africa, to engage with this amazingly detailed text. 

  To do this I am using modern language and a more user friendly approach. The chapters include a personality assessment of Bharata Muni and a modern-style review of Natya Sastra. There is a particular chapter on what Bharata really said about dance, because dance is discussed and described throughout the Natya Sastra, not just in the single chapter that most books refer to. In the process I found Bharata's poem on Madraka Dance which I had not previously seen published in English. 

  The book includes a chapter on Bharata's ladies and a chapter titled "An hour with Bharata Muni" in which we look at the probable development of the current dance styles. I have tried to link the information with the temple sculptures that I have been able to access. The final chapter will most likely be called: "The Beauties and the Dancer: religion, history, politics and economics". 

 About My First Book:  My first book "Dance of Bliss" (250 pages in length!) on dance is possibly more conventional and was published in 2012 and called 'Dance of Bliss -the sacred dance of India, a journey of discovery'. In this first book  I link my personal story with dance and it is written for the dancer, the teacher and for those people who know little about Indian classical dance. 

 It has a section on the history of dance in South Africa and the difficulties of establishing dance from another culture under the apartheid system of the former government. All the styles are discussed in this first book (which has lots of photographs) as well as a detailed look at the history of the dancer and the demise of the devadasi. For my first book I was able to gain much research material in Chennai when I visited.

 "Dance of Bliss" was published in 2012. It was reviewed by Guru Manesh Maharaj who trained for seven years in India and this is a review from Sutra Magazine.

 About Heather Lewis: I had my first class in Bharata Natyam at the age of 33 ( and had seen no classical Indian dancing other than a short film clip at the age of 12 ).. I had no idea what was involved. I gave up my post-graduate studies to learn and was among the first six students in Cape Town to perform arangetram. I was 39 at the time. I studied at Vardhini Indian Arts Academy under Guru Savitri Ganger Naidoo who had studied in Chennai under Guru Indra Rajan. When I was sixty years old I went to India and had classes for a month under the auspices of Master Dhananjayan of Bharata Kalanjali. I continued to dance and also study Odissi. 

Her Passion for Indian Classical Dance:

All I can say is that at the age of 12 years I saw a little Indian classical dance on film and I just knew I had to learn it. And, of course, there was no teacher in Cape Town, so I had to wait 25 years for my guru Savitri Ganger Naidoo to come back fully trained from Chennai where she studied under Guru Indra Rajan. I did not mind waiting 25 years as I knew I would learn in the end. My grandfather spent nine years in India, foot soldier in the British Army before World War One, and he loved India and told me so many stories when I was very tiny and that is where my interest in India began and then later the dance.

Her thoughtfulness:
I am also adding here her valuable views about Odissi that she offered for one of my notes about Odissi-  Here it goes- 

 "Not sure this is relevant to this discussion but I needed to share with someone: having danced Bharata Natyam for thirty years and then in my old age studying the basics of Odissi... all I can say is that the two styles evoke something completely different within, they tap a different energy level, a different essence that resides in the human spirit and the emotions. I feel very regal when I dance Bharata Natyam; and I feel very powerful as a person, an individual (as a woman), when I dance Odissi... but this is, of course, purely a personal reaction to two great 'gifts' of dance to the dancer. I hope Odissi never alters too much (I do realise it was 'rediscovered' in the last century and had to be reconstructed with the help of temple sculptures), but I would not like to see too much alteration for the sake of making it more contemporary, more popular. For me it will always remain a spiritual art form".

heather lewis, south africa, books, papers, (C), do not copy, copyrights acknowledged

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