beautiful young Indian dancer, Shantalala Shivalingappa, who guested at the
Théatre de la Ville with Pina Bausch in Nefés last season,
returned to the scene in Paris in October with a programme of kuchipudi, a
classical dance style from Southern India dating back to the sixteenth century.
She presented her own creation, Shiva Ganga, with musicians J.Ramesh,
B.P.Haribabu, M.S. Sukhi and K.S. Jayaram in the pretty Théatre des
Abbesses at the end of October. With her long dark hair, delicate features and
expressive almond-shaped eyes, Shantala, now twenty-seven, is as enchanting, as
gentle, and as exotic as her name.
She was born in Madras and her
parents, who were already established in Paris, brought her to the French
capital when she was only a few months old. Daughter of the celebrated
choreographer, Savitry Nair, who taught not only in Paris, but at Mudra,
Béjart's school in Brussels and with Bausch, Shantala began taking
classes once or twice a week around the age of seven.
"But at the same time my father encouraged my
studies, and I'm very pleased that he did", she told me, "because after
attending a bi-lingual school , bi-lingual because we always spoke English at
home, I obtained my degree and an M.A. in ethnology at the Sorbonne. But every
holiday was spent in India, where my real training as a kuchipudi dancer began.
It wasn't that I wanted to be a dancer", she said as we chatted in a small
coffee bar near her home, "but more that I grew up with music and dance and
simply enjoyed it. ".
However, the revelation came when Shantala was fifteen
and took part in a choreography her mother had created for The Place in London,
for Dance Umbrella festival. "My mother wanted me to learn a variation in
kuchipudi, and the moment I did, something clicked and I realised that was what
I wanted to do with my life. There are many different classical dance styles in
India", she explained. "Akram Khan, for example,
specialises in Kathak, from North India and Pakistan. The footwork is very
complex and the emphasis is much more on rhythm. My mother herself specialised
in Bharata Natyam, a refined, evocative style concerning religious subjects.
Kuchipudi, a sacred dance originally danced by men, is extremely rapid and uses
this beating on the floor with your feet. It's very strong on the floor with
quick precise movements. The lines are neat and pure, and at the same time it's
Indeed, the rapidity of her tiny feet was
emphasised by the ankle bells, and her slender, fluid body in its traditional
Indian costume was a mass of harmonious curves. Her almost liquid turns and
soft, feather-light leaps and dips were an absolute joy to watch. Many in the
audience broke out into exclamations of wonder; it was such delight to watch
"Dance for me is joy and beauty", she
said," and my master, Vempati Chinna Satyam, with whom I work in Madras, has
forged a very personal style full of elegance and purity. It's important to me
to get this style known in the world. I want to change the stereo-typed image
that some people have of Indian dance. I don't only dance for myself, but for
my musicians and my audience. We are there to share something and be happy, and
it doesn't matter if people don't understand the story or the significance of
Shantala's work is very much open to contemporary
influences. "I got such a shock the first time I saw a work of
Pina Bausch ", she said, "it was so
amazing and totally outrageous. I'd never seen anything like it before! And
then I met her and got to know the company. I was dazzled by the quality of the
dancers and by the wonderful atmosphere in the troupe.
"And then Bausch herself is such a
warm and loving person. I enjoy the way she works, giving her interpreters both
freedom and the confidence to do things they think they can't. Dancing with
them is such a pleasure, although they still over-awe me on stage; they have
changed the way I am as well as my attitude to dance. Pina has given me a
different quality of movement".
Apart from Bausch and when not in
India, Shantala Shivalingappa tries to see as much dance as she can, preferring
to watch a rehearsal rather than an actual performance, and being more
attracted by the dancers themselves than by any choreographer in particular.
Akram Khan cropped up in her
conversation as well as Ana Laguna and Marie-Agnès Gillot of the Paris
Opéra Ballet, while flamenco holds a special significance for her.
Taking classes is not
part of her schedule. "I need to conserve all my energy for my performance" she
said. "There's no tradition of warming up in Indian dance, maybe because of the
climate. Unlike classical or contemporary ballet it does not stretch one's body
into unnatural positions or hurt it in any way. It might look spectacular, but
all I have to do is work on my foot movements and be awake, alive, and ready to
Her mission, she said, was to spread a little of Indian culture
around the world.
Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and
Dancing Times. Ms. Boccadoro is also the dance editor of