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Bharatanatyam and ballet
- Miriam Lamas Baiak, Brazil

April 16, 2013

Mankind began to dance in pre-history to express themselves, communicate with their tribe and with the Gods, for the physical exuberance, for the fertility of earth and people, at births, weddings and funerals, to beg for sun or rain. Dance was synonymous with religion, and religion synonymous with life; and those gave sense to the human movements and meaning to his expression. For years, man was codifying and deciphering these movements acording to their beliefs, needs and habits, so the different dances appeared in each corner of the world, each one with their peculiarity (Baiak 2007).

In India, 5000 years ago, according to Sarabhai (2007), classical dance appeared as a way of communication between humans and Gods, revealing values and beliefs. This dance developed according to each region of India, resulting in 7 classical styles, Bharatanatyam being the most ancient.

The dance went from temples to the theaters, from India to the world, going through modifications in its structure and in the life of its dancers (Andrade, 2007). According to Kothari (2000), one of the most important persons in the recovery of this style of dance after the British empire was Rukmini Devi, who, before starting her studies in Indian dance, learnt classical ballet under Anna Pavlova, who was inspired by Indian and Japanese culture in her productions.

It was in the renaissance, when the burgeoisie got new values that classical ballet started its trajectory in the world of dance to show all glory, luxury and power through the presentations with themes about princes and Gods inside their own castles and palaces. Thanks to the encouragement of kings and queens like Catherine de Medici and Louis XIV, ballet became strong in front of society and had its apogeee of development in the 18th and 19th centuries in France (Portinari, 1989) in the same era that India was invaded by the British and French.

According to Soneji (2010) after the first presentation of Indian dance in Europe in 1838, many librettists wrote operas and ballets with Indian themes as the Indian dancers fascinated the European public, like the main french dancers of the time, Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler. The author also quotes that Kalakshetra, the international arts academy founded by Rukmini Devi, included classes of classical ballet as a part of its training in Bharatanatyam. Classical Indian dance and the European appeared in different countries and times, but those two techniques possibly met when classical ballet was codified and Bharatanatyam reformulated. To Fischer (1959), the art reflects the capacity of man to associate and get around experiences and ideas. Because of that, the similarities between these two dances may be the result of the "gathering" of two distinct societies.

The historical evidence point to a possible relation between Indian classical dance and classical ballet. But, there are very few scientific studies about this theme. So, as the dance has very little research, in Brazil it is seldom recognized as a profession and an area of knowledge. One example of this reality is at the National Curricular Parameter, where art, including dance, started to be part of education, becoming an area of knowledge only in 1997 (Marques, 1999).

According to Mauss (1974), technique is a tradition that changes according to society and times having several means to several ends. Because of that, we have many techniques in the world. Each individual, each society owns a culture and a history different from another. Classical ballet and Bharatanatyam can be judged by recognizing criteria and standards. Both are standardized and presented after years of training. It is necessary to have knowledge of technique for their complete appreciation.

The bodily techniques would be nothing else than the body's capacity to adapt in front of varied situations, creating one habit that is handed to the new generation and changing accordingly to each nation and each historical period. When two or more techniques meet in some period of history, they can merge, bringing to the future generations a tradition modified by the the influence of other society and culture. Taking in consideration the theories of human development of Gallahue and Ozmun (2001), we are results of our genetics, of the ambient that we live in and the tasks we realize. So, if Rukmini Devi practiced classical ballet, there's no way that the style developed by her didn't have influence of western ballet.

So, the West too may have taken from India not only themes for their ballets, but also corporal movements, like Anna Pavlova. Besides rescuing what Europe had forgotten, the beautiful traditions of Indian dances undergo corporal influence in her compositions with the help of a Indian dancer Uday Shankar, and together they put up shows like 'Radha and Krishna' and 'Hindu Wedding' being a success in Europe, United States and in India itself. Pavlova was applauded for her " modern Indian" choreographies.

Even the role of Bharatanatyam in temples have a totally different dimension to ballet in European palaces (Gaston,1996). We can´t stop thinking of their technical similarities that can be the result of a "rendezvouz" at the end of the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries. To Gaston (1996) the artistic vision of Bharatanatyam will be always diverse and like every art, will continue to adapt and change.

Miriam Lamas Baiak has learnt Russian ballet and other dance forms like salon, contemporary and jazz. She is a graduate in dance from "Facult of dance of paraná" with specialization in physiology of exercise. Miriam started Bharatanatyam in 2005 in Brazil and trains in India with her guru Vani Rajgopal. This article is based on her research about the relation between the Bharatanatyam and Russian ballet. The translation to English is by Krishna Sarana Devidasi.

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