In the Fall of 2014, dancer/choreographer Smt. Ramaa Bharadvaj, along with other directors of Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul of Kolwan India, completed a 7-week performance tour of the US, sponsored by the Chinmaya Mission West with the blessings of Swami Tejomayananda.
At the special request of BN&WWW, Ramaa narrates some of her extraordinary travel experiences, precious arts encounters and witty insights in her essay “Nava-dvaara – Nine doors to artistry”. It is being published as a five-part serial.
Nava-Dvaara – Doors to the Secret Chamber
Welcome to week 3 of the door opening ceremony!
There is a question that artists are asked, and often with awe – “how do you continue to stay so constantly motivated?”
Well, pssst! Follow me into the secret chamber and I will show you something. See! There it is! Our big secret! And it’s really not all that glossy, is it? The truth is, our relationship with the glamorously garbed ‘motivation’ is more like a seductive date night that happens once in a while! Our true blue constant companion is what you see here – a dowdy apron clad ‘DETERMINATION’! It is as inspirational speaker Tony Robbins said, “if you can’t, you must; and if you must, you can.”
While motivation supplies devices from the outside to enchant us, it is determination that partners us from the inside, during thick and thin, and especially at those moments when we really don’t want to …
Because we are tired;
Because it is hard;
Because we need a break;
Because it simply seems impossible;
Because there is fun elsewhere;
Because we are no energizer bunny;
… A 1008 such because-es!
However, for performing artists, most personal preferences sort of fade away, for we have a much larger commitment. We envision our Art as having a grander destiny to create beauty, generate laughter, stimulate moments of joy and peace, trigger intellectual contemplations or inspire imagination. There is both entertainment and education in what we do. And, there is a community of people who will gather to receive all this. Our fidelity is to them.
Our spark therefore cannot be from any fickle external factors. It is determination itself that is the motivation with a simple response to our ‘why must I’ question. “Because my dear, it must be done!’
Come what may, the dance will be done. Read on …
– Ramaa Bharadvaj
Door #5: Have Dance – Will Travel
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
– John Steinbeck
I look at all the accompaniments that a dancer needs to pack – costumes (two or three extra sets, just in case), jewels, make-up kits, anklet bells, props! But any amount of careful packing can be made pointless when travels turn into travails. At such times a dancer is left with nothing but the dance to carry the day.
Case in point – our trip to the city of Texarkana. A cancelled connecting flight left our luggage (with costumes and musical instruments) stuck in transit and us at the Dallas airport. The next connecting flight would take us into Texarkana only at 10.30pm and our performance was at 6.30pm. We needed to get our checked luggage pulled out and drive to our destination. But there was no fast way to do that. No amount of cajoling (Indian style) had any effect. The lady at the counter looked at us unamused.
We filed a luggage pull-out request and sat around on the arm of the empty luggage belt gazing at it yearningly. It resembled a dragon’s tongue resting after a big meal. We stared at our reflections on the shiny metal strips. Then, the musicians in the group – Anutosh, Himanshu and Pramodini – began chanting a rhythm, creating improvised refrains on the flute and punctuating the harmony with voice. My arms and leg began to sketch all these musical nuances with dives and curves, swoops and spirals. Soon we were delighting ourselves, and the airport visitors with an impromptu jam session. Reaching our evening-audience on time was in question, but we had an audience right here happy to be entertained.
Performance time was nearing and we could wait no more. For a brief moment, the thought of cancelling the dance event tempted me with a thousand winks. But then the determination to not surrender to this situation took over.
We decided to drive, sans the luggage. We reached the auditorium with just 15 minutes to curtain time and the musicians rushed in. Our enterprising organizer had arranged for borrowed instruments and kurtas for them. She then drove me to a vounteer’s home.
A large table was laid with multiple things borrowed from various homes – sarees, blouses, jewelry, eye makeup, lipstick canisters, powder compacts of all shades and lots of things that I had no use for. I had 30 minutes to sift through this motley collection and find wares to make myself presentable for performance. This felt like a Reality Cooking Show in which contestants have to open the basket and start cooking with whatever is found inside. I almost expected spotlights to turn on, cameras to whir and a suit-clad host to walk out announcing a missing surprise ingredient that I am supposed to incorporate!
I managed to put myself together without looking like a patchwork quilt and did it all in under 30 minutes.
As I entered the performance venue, I glanced down at myself, dressed in borrowed everything. In “MITRA-Dance Hymn to Friendship” I play the role of a poor Brahmin, who lives by singing the Lord’s name and receiving alms. Today, I was not playing the role. I was LIVING IT!
Door #6: Workshop to Playshop …
Eagle Rock, CA
The workshop experience that deeply touched me during the US tour was at the California Dance Institute. Carole Vallesky, its indefatigable director, used to be the principal dancer with the famed Joffrey Ballet. When she hung up her dancing shoes, she turned her immense talent towards bringing dance to Los Angeles school children through her free after-school program. Her mentoring style made it possible for any child to experience “dance” as a means of creative expression and integrated art form and not as a competitive performance technique.
I was given 3 class sessions in which to share Indian rhythms, gestures and expressive elements with these young boys and girls, after which, they would present a dance illustration preceding my performance of MITRA at the Moss Theater.
The love these children had for dance became evident on the final day of class. It was Halloween eve, and I wondered if class was even a possibility. But Carole assured me it would be perfectly alright.
As I walked in, there stood a row of ghouls, goblins and clowns, all smiling enthusiastically! The children had gotten dressed in their “trick-or-treat” outfits! They had shown their determined commitment to the responsibility of attending the class without sacrificing the fun factor of a Halloween party. Bharatanatyam steps never looked as good on anyone before, as it did on these young bodies that evening. That day this group of young ones turned my Work-shop into a Play-shop.
Jean-Marie Martz (former Dance-Chair of the Idyllwild Academy, whose connection to Indian dance goes back to the days of his interactions with Balasaraswathi), visited a session one day and gave the most meaningful compliment. “I am really impressed Ramaa. I loved watching how the children respond to your teaching,” he said.
I particularly appreciated his observation of the ‘response’ part. This is what the Hindu prayer “Sahanavavatu” suggests should happen between a student and teacher. ‘TOGETHER – let us be protected, derive joy, get energized and grow in brilliance.’
Teaching is not a monologue. It’s a call & response that is interactive and mutually nourishing. It would do good for us teachers to remember that there is nothing we can teach anybody – we can only show the path for our students to explore. Our job is to simply be the best guide that we can be to kindle that light within the student.
And then, those students that are blessed with unwavering dedication. determination and sense of commitment will journey on, led by their inner beacon, to become an artist’s artist.
To be continued in next week:
Door #7: Young Lads – Old Souls…
Door #8: Avatars of Imagination …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ramaa Bharadvaj is a storyteller – sometimes with movements and sometimes with words. She is an award-winning dancer, movement designer, educator, arts advisor, advocist, and published writer. After 31 years in the USA she returned to India in 2009 and is currently Director-Dance at Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul for Performing Arts in Kolvan, India.
Ramaa dedicates this essay to Swami Tejomayananda, who recommended that she be part of this US performance tour.